When I first meet clients for mediation or collaborative divorce, the first thing we talk about are their goals for a divorce. This is a standard process for alternative dispute resolution and sets a touchstone that we return to throughout our work. Even if you are using another process for your divorce, understanding your goals and concerns can help guide you towards a better outcome.
What are your goals for a divorce?
Start your process by considering your goals for a divorce. Your goals may be about the process (e.g. ‘I want to get through this in a respectful way’), your kids (e.g. ‘I want my kids to be okay’) or other matters (e.g. ‘I want us both to have enough money when this is done’). It is common that your concerns will be the flip side of your goals. For example, many people worry about the impact the divorce will have on their kids, about spending too much money on the process, or about hating each other after the divorce is final. Be thoughtful and thorough and revisit your lists throughout the divorce.
How Can Goals and Concerns Help with the Process?
Very often, divorces start with positions such as “I want the house” or “I want 50% of parenting time”. These positions can become entrenched and create conflict. One way to manage this process is to step back and look closely at what’s driving these positions. For example, wanting to keep a house may really be about your goal of wanting to keep your kids in the same school system. Wanting 50% of the parenting time may be about your worry of losing time with your kids. Once you figure out what really matters, you have more room to be flexible and creative. Goals and concerns allow you to think about what really matters to you. This gives you the opportunity to let go of the rigid definitions of how to get there.
Why Do Goals and Concerns Matter?
Taking the time to understand your goals and concerns can feel indulgent when you are trying to make decisions about the rest of your life. However, your goals for a divorce can keep you moving forward in the right direction. Remembering you want to get through the process with integrity will help you choose your words carefully in a difficult conversation or apologize if you have said something you regret. Remembering you want to minimize any harm to your kids will help you prioritize things help them during this process (e.g. minimizing conflict, not putting kids in the middle and having a meaningful relationship with both parents). Remembering you are afraid of spending too much money on a divorce will help you step away from lengthy battles about things. It is not uncommon to spend more in legal bills fighting over stuff than the stuff was ever worth.
Ideally, your lawyer or mediator will bring this exercise to you and keep it present throughout the process. Even if they don’t, you can bring these things to your lawyer and let him/her know how you want your values to shape the process. It is also something to talk about with your support system so you can let them know what is actually supportive to you in coming through this divorce in the healthiest way possible.