Friday, July 25, 2008

Why Can't We Start Negotiating at the 1st Meeting?

It's not unusual for one or both of the parties in a family law case to be very anxious from the outset to finish the case as rapidly as possible. They are undeterred by the 60-day waiting period provided by state law for a divorce, and they don't really care if the other party isn't ready to move as quickly. Aside from those issues, it generally is not possible to cover everything that is needed at the first meeting and then fit in negotiations in a 1 1/2 to 2 hour meeting.

Often, the parties don't see the need to establish a foundation for the process to work for them. The foundation includes several parts. Various documents and procedures are carefully reviewed by all parties to make sure there is understanding and agreement. Any questions about the process and any doubts about whether to use it need to be resolved. We have found that if we skim over, or skip, discussions of the documents and procedures, the case is much more likely later to develop major problems. It is very helpful for everyone to review and commit to the process and to understand how it works.

There is a "Roadmap" which needs to be followed, and it includes the following elements:
1. Determine the goals for the parties.
2. Assess the facts of the case. Gather all relevant information and put it in useable form.
3. Identify what issues need to be resolved and brainstorm possible solutions. In the brainstorming stage, there's no discussion of the merits of the proposals, they're just listed.
4. Evaluate the possible solutions. Figure out what might work and which ones won't.
5. Negotiate to an agreement that meets the goals of both parties.
It is important to follow each step in order and to not skip over some steps.

At the initial joint meeting, after reviewing and approving the documents and participation agreement, the parties work on their goals. After that, the parties can deal with any brief, urgent needs, although most such issues will be reserved for later meetings. By the time the goals are set and any urgent needs are briefly discussed, the time limit is usually reached. My experience is that the parties become less effective and often more argumentative if they stay in session for longer than two hours.

Once the foundation is set in the first meeting, the parties will have an excellent chance for success with the process.

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