If you put two smart, equally powerful people together to solve a problem with no clear right or wrong answer, they will likely come up with at least two possible solutions, and will often disagree on which solution is the best. The conundrum then becomes, which solution will be chosen? Who gets to choose? What is the basis for making this particular choice? Must one solution win and the other lose? Now imagine that the two people trying to solve the problem are getting divorced. The problem solving process now is emotionally as well as cognitively challenging.
Collaborative Practice is founded on the idea that two smart and equally powerful people getting a divorce should be given the opportunity to create their own resolutions outside of court. But often the problems that need to be solved in a divorce do not have clear right or wrong answers. In an emotionally charged situation, it’s easy for even the most thoughtful people to become positional and fall into a win-lose mindset, which exacerbates conflict and adds to the emotional and financial expense of the divorce process.
Instead of encouraging clients to engage in positional thinking, Collaborative professionals use a process called interest-based negotiation which aims at creating win-win rather than win-lose solutions. Interest-based negotiation explores the interests, needs or values underlying positions. At this deeper level, people can often gain new insights into self and other that help them become more flexible problem solvers.
I have Collaborative clients who agreed I could share their story of how interest-based negotiation helped them reach a very creative resolution regarding parenting time.
These parents had agreed that a co-equal parenting time schedule would work well for their children. Based on their children’s ages, they were considering a developmentally appropriate 2-2-5-5 parenting time arrangement, in which one parent would be on duty every Monday and Tuesday night, the other parent every Wednesday and Thursday night, and weekends would alternate. But neither parent was really satisfied with this outcome. This co-equal resolution did not feel like a win-win solution; instead, both felt they were losing something important and thus couldn’t agree to this schedule. We needed to go deeper for resolution.
Below the surface of the co-equal schedule proposal, some of each parent’s core interests were not being addressed. Dad felt sadness at giving up two Friday game nights with the kids each month. Mom was unhappy about losing two Sunday worship services with the kids each month. These were special family times for each parent. As parents shared these concerns with each other, they reached an agreement that Dad could continue to have every Friday evening for game night, but would bring the kids to Mom’s house later on her parenting time weekends. Mom could bring the kids to church on the Sunday evenings they were scheduled to have weekends with Dad, and bring them to his house after church. These resourceful parents succeeded at reaching a unique and creative solution that would work for their family in the context of the broader parenting time arrangement. And best of all, the primary beneficiaries are their children.
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