An essential component of a successful collaborative divorce is the four-way meetings. Four-way meetings occur when you, your attorney, your spouse and his or her attorney and your neutral experts sit down together in an attempt to resolve the issues in your case. Four-way meetings can cause a great deal of anxiety for the divorcing couple. The last thing they want to do is sit in a conference room across the table from each other and talk about their personal issues. Nevertheless, you can have meaningful and successful four-way meetings if you follow the following rules of thumb:
- Prepare. Prior to each meeting, have a conference with your attorney. It is important for you to express your concerns and goals so that the attorney can provide clarification, protection or validation. It is also important to develop an agenda prior to each meeting to make sure that the time is used effectively to ensure that your goals and concerns are being met. Make sure you also clarify your expectations – do you want your attorney to take the lead or should your attorney just sit back and listen. Generally speaking, even if you want your attorney to take the lead, there will be times when you want to say something. Consequently, it might be appropriate to come up with a “code word” so that when it’s used, then your attorney will know that you need something, whether it’s a break, private time, a change of subject, or that you wish to speak on the issue. Even if your attorney doesn’t suggest a pre-four-way meeting conference, be proactive and always make sure one occurs;
- Be Effective. Prior to each meeting, you should make sure that you have listed your goals and ensure that your goals at that meeting are consistent with the agenda for the meeting and remains consistent with your interests and principles. Remember unless you have something to say that helps you obtain those goals, don’t say it;
- Be Respectful. The other person may not show it, but try to remember that your divorce is a very difficult transition for both spouses, whether it is emotional, financial, physical, or all the above. You both are going through major changes of your life. Therefore, it is unlikely that you will both be at the same emotional place at the same time; you will not be able to process information the same way at the same time. Sometimes you will need to slow down and sometimes you will need to speed up. Be respectful of the differences between you and your spouse. If your spouse has been the procrastinator during the course of the marriage or hasn’t been good with finances, don’t expect that those behaviors will magically change during your collaborative divorce;
- Think Outside the Box. The mantra that I have my clients repeat to themselves is: Be creative and Be respectful. Don’t be afraid to brainstorm potential options and develop as many options as possible for each issue in your case both before you attend your four-way meeting and during your four-way meeting. Get as many options on the table to be considered before you begin evaluating or judging their practicality. Make sure that prior to each meeting you ask your attorney for ideas on how other people in your similar situations have handled these issues. Remember, don’t discount your spouse’s ideas. He or she may, in fact, have a solution that will work well for both of you;
- Listen. We all have the internal voices in our minds speaking to us constantly. That inner voice will be at high speed and high volume during your four- way meeting. If you have your goals and your options clearly in mind before you enter the meeting, then you will be able to listen carefully to what your spouse or his or her attorney is stating during the course of the meeting. Understand that you may both be saying the same thing in different words. A four-way meeting is your opportunity to communicate face-to-face without potential miscommunication (that may have happened frequently during your marriage);
- Think About the Other Side. In a divorce, it is important for you to prioritize your goals so that you are clearly focused on what’s most important to you. However, you should never stop thinking about what’s most important to your spouse. What does he or she value, want or need? What’s the best way to approach them? How can you create “win-win” solutions? How can you both obtain some of your respective goals? Just because you want a settlement offer packaged in a certain way does not mean your spouse wants that. In order to meet your goals, you’ll have to convince the other person they’re also his or her goals or see the advantage your proposals may have for him or her and your children;
- Debrief. It is important to have a conference with your attorney after every four-way meeting. The purpose of that meeting is to discuss what worked well and what didn’t work. How well are you progressing in obtaining your goals; have you been able to identify what’s important to your spouse and what options are available to provide a win/win type of situation. Also at this debriefing session is the time to commence talking about your goals and how to approach the next four way meeting;
Collaborative divorce is a non-adversarial way for you and your spouse to work on a settlement that works for both of you and is in your best interest. It provides an opportunity for you to generate creative solutions that may potentially meet both of your needs and the best interests and needs of your children. By following the above guidelines, you’ll maximize the value of each four-way meeting and maximize your chances of success of having a successful divorce.
Charles D. Jamieson is Board Certified by the Florida Bar in marital and family law. He’s also a trained and experienced collaborative divorce attorney. If you have an issue in either a collaborative or litigation divorce, please contact our office for a consultation.