I often have people come in for a consultation about an amicable divorce. They and their spouse agree that they want to keep the divorce amicable, and often they hope to be able to work out their own settlement between themselves (the “kitchen table” approach) without professionals. What makes me worry, however, is when the focus of the consultation is on learning about what they are entitled to in the divorce. In other words, they only want to agree to what the court law would make them do anyway.
The problem with that approach stems in part from the fact that the law on divorce (at least in Washington) is not that specific. The judge is supposed to do what is “fair and equitable”. Therefore what one judge would do in a given case may be quite different that what the judge down the hall would do.
The second issue is that it is hard to keep things amicable when both parties are only looking out for their own interests. Because there is a broad range of potential outcomes in a divorce, and because any two lawyers are going to give different advice based on their own experiences, two people who are only looking out for their own interests are almost inevitably going to come up with different ideas of what a “fair” outcome should be. Once they each develop their positions as to what they think the settlement should look like, they are in conflict even if they did not want to be, simply by virtue of holding conflicting positions.
Instead, “amicable” is much more likely to happen when two people are willing to let go of just looking out for their own interests and instead look out for each other. Looking out for each other builds trust, and it allows creativity to happen. Most importantly, it means that both parties have a common goal – finding solutions that work for both of them. Having a common goal allows them to work together to meet that goal, rather than working against each other.
Isn’t that what we hope for from each other in a marriage? It might help to think of a divorce as the last steps you take as a couple — the last part of the marriage rather than the first part of being unmarried.