09 Jan Batter up: Collaboration is not for sissies
If you think collaborative divorce is just sitting around and being polite so that you can get what you want, think again. Politeness may be expected, but the crux of collaboration is a shift from being an adversary to being a collaborator. The easiest way to think about that is to imagine sitting across the table from your spouse looking at a delicious pie that you both have to share.
Dividing the pie is like divorcing. There are many ways to do it, and each of them has benefits and costs associated with it that can be likened to divorced strategies. Pretend you’re a baseball player dividing up the pie…
You can, for example, decide to divide the pie with a baseball bat. Bringing the bat down on the pie may result in two sides, which achieves one goal sort of, but it runs the risk of ruining the entire pie and splattering everyone standing near it with pie goop. I like to think of this division being the most similar to cutthroat litigation approaches which, in family law, are funded by the exact dollars that make up the marital estate. This means that the more you fight, the less you have to fight over because in the process of fighting, you deplete the marital estate. And, the close you are to the pie, the more mess you get on yourself.
Then there’s the process of levered negotiation which is where you threaten to divide the pie with a bat unless the other side agrees to only taking the portion you are willing to cut off for them. For many people, this ruins the thought of enjoying the pie and although it can result in a short term victory, many victors discover that the animosity they bought with their power approach is not worth it. Disgruntled spouses are likely to serve the coffee with soured cream and the type of animosity that accompanies an unfair deal can lead to years of post-decree skirmishes.
Then there is the baseball arbitration approach. Each person specifies a division and a third party picks the “most fair” division. This approach banks on the idea that every part of the pie you get comes at the direct expense of the other but it also builds into it the idea that one person is going to be fairer to the other side if their unfairness is going to cost them. I liken this to mediation arbitration, where parties give and take in the hopes that they can convince the other person to share the loss. This isn’t a bad way to go, but did you ever notice that there is an unhappy long term relationship between baseball players and team owners? Hmmm….
Then there is the approach that you set the table, pour the coffee, sit down and eat the pie together, savoring the parts that you like best and giving the other person the parts they like best. When you cannot decide who should get what bite, you figure out how to share it. This is like doing your divorce in a collaborative fashion. You still end up with half the pie, but the process is a lot more satisfying and agreeable, and usually you don’t end up wanting to hit the other person over the head with a baseball bat covered with strawberry rhubarb filling.