If your settlement meeting is approaching, you are probably nervous about having to sit across the table and discuss personal issues with your ex. If you have been a victim of threats, intimidation, harassment, or domestic violence, meeting with your ex can be downright frightening.
Communicate with your Lawyer Beforehand
It’s important that you meet with your lawyer privately before your settlement meeting. It will give you the opportunity to convey any concerns, ask questions and discuss negotiation strategies. It is essential that you develop an agenda with your lawyer to ensure your time is used effectively. Communicate your expectations. For example, be clear about your preferences; e.g. if you want to speak for yourself or prefer your lawyer to take the lead. It may also be helpful to come up with a code word or hand gesture to alert your lawyer if you need to take a break or change the subject.
Be Effective and Respectful
Limit the discussion to topics that will enable you to move forward and advance goals that are in line with your interests. Avoid being critical, blaming or accusing your ex; and bringing up issues that are irrelevant to settlement. Even if you disagree with your ex, refrain from talking over him or her during the meeting. Vent to your lawyer or people in your support network before the meeting and stay focused on relevant issues during the meeting. Listening and paying attention to how your ex feels will increase the likelihood that both of you will come to an agreement.
Stick to the Agenda and Focus on the Children
Start with any urgent issues (i.e. temporary orders) that cannot be avoided and must be addressed immediately. Keep the children’s needs at the forefront - look at any settlement from your children’s perspective, and not from your view or the other parent’s view. Move on to another issue if you reach deadlock. Try to settle as many issues as possible, even if you can’t settle all of them.
Be a Creative Negotiator
Brainstorm and develop options before deciding on a solution. Conflict can be useful if it provides an opportunity to devise creative solutions that solves both of your problems. Be open to hearing ideas from your ex, and to compromising. Settlement meetings are about giving up something in return for avoiding the risks and costs of going to court. Negotiate effectively by convincing your ex that what you want is the best option for him or her; and that it meets both your goals. Remember that your lawyer is only there to give you strategy and recommendations, not to make decisions for you.
Settlement meetings can be wonderful. With the assistance of an experienced family lawyer, even the most difficult cases can be resolved. Ultimately, you will have an agreement that you helped develop and it will be achieved in a cost-effective and timely way.