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?

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