Thinking Strategically

If you’re going to keep control of your divorce, it’s essential that you think strategically.

As you mediate, as you negotiate, and even as you fight in court, you should ask yourself these three questions constantly:

  1. How much is this issue worth to me in today’s dollars?
  2. How likely is it that I’ll win?
  3. How much is it costing me to fight about it?

How much is this issue worth to me in today’s dollars?

We’re talking here about something called the time value of money. If you already understand the time value of money, great. If you don’t, click here for a quick explanation. You must understand it to negotiate well in divorce.

When people ask me what mistake I see people make most often in divorce, it’s easy to answer. In divorce, I see people every day argue about an issue, lay down a gauntlet about an issue, pay their lawyer thousands of dollars to fight over an issue, all without knowing what the issue is really worth to them or to their spouse.

Your lawyer may not think to ask the question either, so it’s up to you. Ask consistently and insistently, until you understand the real value to you of the issues that are open.

How likely is it that I’ll win?

Most lawyers are pretty good about telling you what they think the chances are that you’ll prevail, so this one comes pretty easily. The problem I see here is not with lawyers, it’s with clients. That’s you. It’s sometimes easy in the heat of divorce to disregard the warnings your lawyer is giving you that you’re likely to lose. Not much to say about that other than to note that it happens.

What is it costing me to fight about it?

Lawyers are terrible at this, and so are clients. Lawyers don’t want to raise it, because they’re naturally reluctant to talk about their fees. Clients don’t want to raise it, because they’re generally trying to avoid thinking about it.

Think about it. Talk about it. And you’re not just talking about the lawyer’s fee. You’re talking about other costs, too:

  • There are other out-of-pocket costs, like expert witnesses and other professionals.
  • Continuing a fight often steals your focus from your children, at a time when they really need you to be their parent.
  • Continuing a fight takes you away from work physically, and it also steals your focus from your work performance even when you’re on the job.
  • Each day you continue a fight makes it that much harder for you to repair the relationship with your spouse later. That may seem irrelevant now, but soon enough, you’ll need to have some kind of working relationship with this person who is now your adversary.

You need to know the answer to all three questions. If you don’t know the answers, or if you can’t tell from the answers that you need to keep fighting, it’s time to explore a graceful concession.

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