Negotiation and Divorce

With the divorce rate at 50 percent there are many divorced couples.  These couples apparently did not learn to negotiate effectively.  If there are no children involved with the divorced couple, the parties can essentially go their separate ways after the dissolution and have little or no contact with each other in the future.  On the other hand, if the divorced couple had children together, like it or not, these couples will have to interact together for years afterward.  With children there will be school plays, concerts, demonstrations, sporting events, recitals, graduations, and hopefully, weddings and childbirths.  Given all these future events, these couples will have to learn to communicate and negotiate civilly.  If not, many of these events, which should be happy times, could become disasters. 

Research on divorce indicates that most couples (approximately 80 percent) settle into a groove within 18 months to two years after the decree.  They learn to communicate civilly and negotiate reasonably, for the sake of the children.  Unfortunately, the data also suggests that 15 to 20 percent of divorced couples with children continue to fight and argue, sometimes for years after the decree.  Sadly, many of these acrimonious couples continue to communicate and negotiate in the same maladaptive manner that played a large part in the demise of the original relationship.  To make matters worse, these angry couples often bring the children into their conflict.

Most adults would agree that the definition of an effective parent is one who puts their needs secondary to that of the child.  With some divorced parents, though, it is almost as if their anger and frustration supersedes the best interest of the child; the parent expresses their anger and frustration frequently and openly, which is not in the child’s best interest.  In some instances some divorced parents hate their ex more than they love their child.

Communicating and negotiating effectively between divorced partners is especially difficult because of hurt feelings.  Someone you once loved and even had a child with now rejects you.  Nevertheless, divorced parents must put aside their anger and distrust and strive to negotiate in good faith with their ex.  They must do so not because they want to, but because they have to.  If they let their frustration rule, they will likely be miserable for years, even decades, and their children will come to resent them as well. 

Relationships are reciprocal—whether married or divorced.  What you put out comes back; garbage in; garbage out; what goes around comes around; etc.  Divorced couples must understand this. 

Negotiations between divorced couples should not be a competition or an opportunity for one-upsmanship.  A negotiation should be simple, straight forward, seeking compromise, guided by the best interests of the child or children.  By negotiating in this manner, the entire family will benefit.


Larry F. Waldman, PhD, ABPP

Larry F. Waldman, Ph.D., ABPP is a licensed psychologist who has practiced in the Paradise Valley area of Phoenix for over 38 years.  He works with children, adolescents, parents, adults, and couples.  He also provides forensic consultations in the areas of family law, personal injury, and estate planning.  He speaks professionally to laypersons, educators, corporations, and fellow mental health professionals.  He teaches graduate courses for the Educational Psychology Department for Northern Arizona University.  He is the author of “Who’s Raising Whom?  A Parent’s Guide to Effective Child Discipline,” “Coping with Your Adolescent,” “How Come I Love Him But Can’t Live With Him?  Making Your Marriage Work Better,” “The Graduate Course You Never Had:  How to Develop, Manage, Market a Flourishing Private Practice—With and Without Managed Care,” and  “Too Busy Earning a Living to Make Your Fortune?  Discover the Psychology of Achieving Your Life Goals.”