Sunday, January 15, 2012

How to Set Meaningful Goals for Collaboration

When we set goals, the natural tendency, and the easiest approach, is to just make a list of the things each party wants, such as the house, a retirement plan, alimony, a savings account, $50,000.00 cash, control of a business, etc. Actually, in a Collaborative case, we want to approach goals at a higher and broader level. For example, you can state that you want to provide sufficient funds to pay for college for the kids.

Goal setting is an essential first step in Collaborative Law cases. Both parties need to identify and state what goals would be important to them. Some goals are joint and some are individual. It's really nice when there are joint goals, but that doesn't always occur. Joint goals might include such things as raising the kids while acting as co-parents, having the kids live in a safe and comfortable neighborhood and saving taxes while dividing up the marital property.

Each of the above goals are broad enough that they will permit consideration of multiple solutions. That means that you will have more and better possible solutions to work with.

When you are setting your goals, here are some principles to keep in mind.
  • Goals should identify interests. They should be fairly broadly stated and should relate to fundamentally important matters for you.
  • Goals should not be just a specific solution or asset or amount of money.
  • It's helpful, but not required, for the parties to have common goals and to work out solutions together.

To help you understand and apply these ideas, here are some examples of badly worded goals, followed by more appropriate statements.

1. "I want the house." That statement is a solution, one choice to address the need or interest in having a house. A better statement of a goal would be something like, "I want an affordable house in a safe neighborhood, near good schools." That identified several interests, including having a house, living in a safe area and being near good schools for the kids. It also allows several possible solutions, including the current house and any other house that met those criteria.

2. "I want the kids 50-50." That is one way to meet an interest that might be stated as, "I want to be actively involved in the kids' lives", which is a much broader goal that probably more accurately reflects the desire to do things with the kids. Being actively involved means more than just spending time. It's playing, talking and listening, reading, studying and other activities with the kids. It can include volunteering and helping with the kids' activities in school and out. It also includes participating in health and medical and dental issues. Being an active parent is much more than just putting in the time. You can ensure that each parent will be able to be an active parent as you allocate the rights, powers and duties of parents.

3. "I want the credit union savings account." That request can be a single solution, but it is important to uncover the real underlying issue, which could be the need for an emergency fund, the need for school expenses, or having seed money to start a business, for example. It's better to look for the big picture and open up to find multiple possible solutions. That will make it easier to find a satisfactory financial or other solution.

When you are setting goals at the outset of a Collaborative case, spend some time and come up with statements of goals that use broad and high-level terms. Don't immediately propose a solution. Instead, look for deeper insight into whatever needs or interests you have. Be willing to ask "why?" to get to the real underlying interests. Don't treat goal setting lightly. You can accomplish a lot if you carefully identify your goals at the beginning of a Collaborative case.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Benefits of Establishing Goals

Every year, at the first of the year, a tradition for many Americans, besides planning to lose weight, is to come up with a list of goals for the upcoming year. In Collaborative Law cases (all year long), we also start off each case with the process of the parties listing and clarifying their goals, needs and interests.

Some people like to cut to the chase and start negotiating immediately. They get anxious and see setting goals as unnecessary, expensive and delaying the process. Others have a hard time setting goals and are uncomfortable doing it, so they prefer to avoid it. Actually, the Collaborative process works out better, produces more options and works more efficiently when the parties thoughtfully spell out their objectives in advance. Here's why:

1. Stephen Covey talks about starting with the end in mind. That makes a lot of sense. You can plan your steps and direction once you determine where you want to go. That's better than just assuming that you should aim for arbitrary "standard" solutions, such as a 50-50 property division or taking the standard possession schedule or child support calculations.

2. Setting goals makes you stop and think. Working with experienced Collaborative lawyers and other professionals, you can ask yourself questions about what you really want in your post-divorce life. As you consider different choices and directions, you will make better plans and be more creative in coming up with possible solutions.

3. You may discover common ground with your spouse. When goals are set at a broad level, the parties often discover that they have common goals that make it easier to settle their case. For example, both parents may agree that they want the kids to live in a safe neighborhood or they want the kids to have sufficient funds to pay for college. Both parties may agree that they should pay off some debts so they can start off with debt-free post divorce. In each case, once the broad, high-level goals are set, the parties can begin to figure out how to accomplish them.

4. The process may help you learn more about your spouse. Even if you have been married a long time, there are often things you don't know about your spouse, or your spouse may have changed in ways that you don't know about. If you try to work through a divorce settlement assuming things from the past, your approach may be very inaccurate.
Similarly, you may educate your spouse about your new ideas and interests. Continuing down the wrong path through ignorance wastes time and money for both of you and is very dissatisfying.

5. Setting goals helps keep everyone focused and operating efficiently. That translates into saving time and money and minimizing stress. Who wouldn't like that?