We turn now to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for some advice on negotiating a favorable divorce settlement. Who better to know how to hoard and leverage a little knowledge than our nation’s spymasters? The heart of any negotiation is, after all, information — information your adversary does not know you have, and information your adversary inadvertently shares. To win a favorable settlement during a settlement conference, you have to run your side of the table like a covert spy operation.
Information is Worth More Than Gold
Many of the great breakthroughs of World War II only were possible because of the exemplary work of the Intelligence Division of the Polish Home Army (Armii Krajowej or AK).1The AK’s spymasters had the unenviable task of gathering intelligence against an occupying army, Hitler’s Nazis. They did amazing work, including ferreting out the Peenemünde rocket testing grounds for the V-1 and V-2 rockets.
Negotiation is, in the hands of a good attorney, never about a “win-win” for both sides. It is about getting from your opponent (in this case, your ex-wife) all that you can while giving up as little as you can. Information is worth more than gold in this exchange.
Setting the Stage for your Settlement Conference
Just as the AK’s intelligence service was hard at work from the very beginning, breaking down and passing along valuable information about such diverse things as the Enigma encoding machine and the construction of German airfields, so too you need to plan very early for the settlement conference:
- Hold negotiations in a quiet, professional atmosphere, preferably on your turf
- Dress for comfort; let the lawyers wear suits
- Work out a complete list of needs and wants
- Decide in advance what you must have and what you can give away
- Have a written agenda you and your attorney worked out
- Listen more than talk
- When you talk, speak only for yourself and avoid generalizations — Use I-talk, such as “I think a reasonable spousal support amount is less than that”
- Remember you are not required to respond to everything thrown at you
- Practice remaining cool, calm and collected even when the topic is getting under your skin
- Practice stepping away from the table rather than impulsively saying “Yes” to something that needs a “No”
Consider Your Strategy
A negotiation means having something to bring to the table. This is where a little information goes a long way. Ignore your suspicions and hunches about your ex-wife’s possible wish-list. Pay attention to what you have seen her prioritize in the past.
Perhaps, more than anything, she wants custody of your children. This is your leverage. You are not being unkind to your children or your wife to accept that this settlement negotiation determines the structure of your life for years to come. While no parent wants to see less of his kids, perhaps you could accept her as sole custodian in return for her giving up her share in your vacation cabin in Luray.
You and your attorney must decide, ahead of time, three things:
- What must you have?
- What can you give up?
- What is the least you will accept or the most you can give up?
Take your children, for example. You must have continued contact and relationships with them. You will give up child custody in return for having a great place to take them when you do have them. The least you will accept is a month in the summer and at least three weekends every month. The most you will give up is custody of the kids.
Negotiating Money & Property
Every settlement negotiation eventually gets around to money and valuation. How much is a vacation cabin worth? Who owns the ATV? In a negotiation, something is only worth what the other person is willing to pay for it. Insisting you can get $7,000 for the ATVs is useless if your ex-wife values them at $700.
This means doing research, so you can demonstrate value at the table. What is the actual resale value of ATVs, how much is real estate in Luray worth, and how much will one of you pay to keep the homestead going?
In some aspects of the conference, you need to be very selfish:
- How much of your retirement plan will you get to keep?
- Who gets the patent rights for the invention you are perfecting?
- Will you be required to liquidate your business and split the proceeds?
In other aspects, you have a responsibility to look beyond yourself in the settlement negotiation, too:
- What is the college fund worth, will both of you continue to fund it, and how much will you each put in?
- How will the children’s health insurance be paid?
- Who pays for homeowners, automobile and disability insurance?
- Who gets family heirlooms, artwork, or antique furniture?
You have the needs and interests of your children and your own nuclear family to consider. Too often, men in settlement conferences keep an eye on a singular prize and give away far too much, such as family heritage or potential future wealth.
Be prepared to listen to your attorney and to listen to your ex-wife’s attorney, and — dare we say it? — your ex-wife herself. She may reveal something she will give up in return for something you can easily give away, like fine china or a set of crystal. By listening more than talking, you collect information and give away very little.
The Firm For Men is dedicated to helping Virginia men get what they want and need in settlement negotiations. By contacting us online or calling our offices at 757-383-9184, you can be connected to a lawyer with long experience in negotiating successful settlements.