Create Your Own House Rules

An important means for creating a suitable negotiation environment is to invent your own house rules. Suggest that the two of you govern your conversations by mutually agreeing to the following:

  • Only one of you will be allowed to get angry at the same time.
  • If things get heated – no matter who is to blame – you will take a 20-minute break.
    • Either party can call a time-out; and it must be honored INSTANTLY (this means mid-sentence, if need be) with no last words thrown in.
  • The party speaking has the floor, and neither of you will interrupt or react while that person is speaking. They have the floor until they say they give it up.
    • If there is a silence, and only then, the other may ask for permission to speak. The proper question is “May I have the floor?”
      • Neither should ask questions like “Are you through?” or “Is it my turn now?”
  • Neither of you will immediately judge the other’s position as wrong but will keep the door open on a challenged issue until all your discussions have taken place and both of you have had the opportunity to explain yourselves fully.
  • Agree that anything that either of you says will be prefaced with an imaginary if. This is to facilitate the exchange of settlement positions and comments without either party becoming automatically bound by their own words.
    •  For example, imagine something like this is said: “I think the house is worth $400,000, so I’ll let you buy my one-half for $200,000.”
    • Under this house rule, the parties will deem that statement to mean, “I’ll accept $200,000 for my half…only if the house appraisal comes back at $400,000 or lower. The invisible if allows both parties to open up and start talking numbers without fear of having the numbers thrown back in their faces later in the negotiations.
  • Agree in advance that if either party walks out, they must return the next day at the same time and place. Walking out does not end negotiations; it just ends them for that day.
  • Agree you will not close an unsuccessful negotiation meeting with war words or word of finality, e.g., “I’ll see you in court,” or something like, “That’s it!” or “I’m through,” or “Thanks for wasting my time.”

Creating mutually agreed house rules lays a solid foundation for the very sensitive discussions that are about to take place.

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Kari and Richard are staunch advocates of the non-court approach to divorce, and are also active and seasoned litigators with over 80 years of combined trial experience in the Illinois divorce courts of Cook and DuPage counties.