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Helping Clients Reach A Settlement


It is often beneficial for the parties to discuss possible settlement of disputes. It is usually best if you and your spouse are able to resolve your own problems to your mutual satisfaction rather than requiring the judge or other outside person to decide how you should live your lives.

These negotiations should not proceed at a time when either you or your spouse is consuming alcoholic beverages or other mind-altering drugs. In addition, negotiations should proceed in a manner where neither side is feeling unduly pressured by the other party.

In order to assist you in dealing with your spouse, here are some basic negotiation techniques:

  1. Try to focus on solving the problem rather than trying to “win a fight?” with your spouse whenever thee is a conflict. Eventually you and your spouse should come to see each other as two independent persons working side by side trying to solve your common or shared problems.
  2. Learn to focus on the underlying needs of each party rather than fighting over the particular “positions” that you or your spouse may be taking in regard to a particular problem. (For instance, the disagreement may be over which of you will be named the “primary residential custodian” when neither of you really object to the child living at a particular house. The problem may well be how each party will share specific times and activities with the child.) Talk about the specifics! Talk about who will take the child to dancing lessons, scouting, church, or to school, etc., rather than “who will have custody” or be “the primary residential custodian.”
  3. Before reaching a conclusion on any matter, develop several alternative options that would be advantageous to both of you. Note: It is much easier for you to formulate these options in the privacy of your home or office before entering into negotiations rather than trying to think of them in the heat of the negotiating session itself.
  4. Making sure that the negotiations proceed based on fair and objective standards such as case and statutory law or sound psychological principles. Do not bully your spouse and do not be bullied.


When participating in any negotiating session, the following guidelines are helpful:

  1. Spell out in detail the points on which you and your spouse agree before dealing with the points where you have diverse opinions.
  2. Try to involve your spouse in each step of the negotiation process. Your spouse will be unlikely to reach an agreement if s/he did not help create it.
  3. Give your spouse verbal credit for the hard work that he or she is putting into the negotiations to settle your differences. Involving your spouse is particularly important since s/he is much more likely to accept an agreement that s/he helped to negotiate.
  4. Try to see and feel the emotions that are motivating your spouse (anger, hurt, or need for financial or other security). This opportunity for your spouse to let off steam is often essential to the success of the negotiations. Often, only after each of you has vented your anger, hurt, etc., are you going to be able to work to solve the problems that you and your spouse have before you.
  5. In any settlement negotiation, both parties will occasionally make mistakes. Be sure to apologize whenever you have made a mistake so that your spouse will not feel it necessary to bring that matter up again.
  6. Whenever possible use active listening techniques such as are taught in the books Getting to Yes, by Roger Fisher and Bruce Patton, and Parent Effectiveness Training, by Dr. Thomas Gordon.
  7. State your spouse’s position clearly and fairly with such introductory phrases as “you feel that . . .,” “let me see if I follow what you are trying to tell me . . .” or “from your point of view, the situation looks like this . . . .” After stating your spouse’s view of the situation and making your spouse realize that you understand their point of view, s/he then will be better able to listen to your suggestions on how to solve these problems. Your spouse will then be more willing to listen to what you perceive as your problems, needs, and concerns.
  8. Understand your spouse’s needs. In trying to share a settlement, it is necessary to consider some of the underlying needs which you both will have such as: a) the need for a sense of belonging; b) the need for a sense of recognition; c) the need for a sense of control over your life; d) the need to be treated with respect and as an equal; and e) the need to feel financially secure. You must deal openly with these underlying needs of both you and your spouse; otherwise, it will be very difficult to reach a settlement that will work over a long period of time.