A Financial Perspective from the Balcony

Girl on the terrace mediation divorce

Recently I listened to a TED Talk given by William Ury who co-authored to the famous book on negotiation, “Getting to Yes.” I was reminded how easy it is to lose perspective in the midst of financial conflict in collaborative cases. Ury describes an alternative way to handle conflict. He talks about “the third side” and “going to the balcony” to gain perspective.

This resonated with me as a financial neutral in Collaborative Divorce. Money is funny and can cause great conflict among couples trying to find a peaceful solution to de-couple. I often feel like I am the “third side” and I provide the balcony for couples to act, not react and to find a way to compromise.

Digesting budgets, bank and investment statements, and mortgage papers can be overwhelming for both the financial and non-financial spouse. Emotions run high. It’s easy to get caught up in positions: “What am I entitled to?” “What do I deserve?”

Providing a “balcony” where clients can digest and gain perspective can be key to moving a collaborative session towards a collaborative agreement. This is where I provide real-time options and build possibilities for both spouses to consider.

These options can be a physical spreadsheet, with cash flow and short-, mid- and long-term projections. Or I may just offer words that help break down choices and considerations not yet on the table.

A collaborative case one meeting away from the couple’s signing their agreement illustrates effectively going to and viewing the big picture from the balcony. We made our way through an equitable distribution spreadsheet. All assets were divided as the parties approved. But one hurdle remained. A commercial property had some non-marital component, but the Husband could supply no proof or documentation stating ownership before the marriage.

At the conference table, I witnessed frustration. Progress had begun to halt. During the break, I found common ground and talked with both clients about how a partial “non-marital” component could make sense. I ran two new cash flow options. By removing the partial “non-marital” value of the property in the spreadsheet, the cash flow was not very different from when the entire property was included as marital. Over twenty years, a 25% reduction (half of half) in the value of the nonmarital component would be barely noticeable. The Wife saw the value in letting the partial amount be removed and the Husband felt validated by receiving a portion of his property as non-marital, even absent documentation to prove its value.

Our experienced collaborative team saw the value and supported the effort. Both collaborative attorneys and the Mental Health Neutral supported the suggestion. The third side was essential to finding common ground and settling.

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