Suggestions for how to generate options, create effective proposals, and give valuable feedback to the other side in a negotiation or mediation

Most people new to divorce have no idea how to frame statements or create options without reacting judgmentally. Some attorneys can provide useful ideas about how to do this or role-play it with you. Or, perhaps more effectively, you can seek out a divorce coach who can teach you these skills. You will not regret this learning as it will stand you in good stead in future difficult discussions throughout your life, e.g., with your boss, your children, or your colleagues.

Finding a creative and effective solution to the divorce (or other) puzzle often begins with brainstorming. Brainstorming involves speaking out loud any idea that comes to mind about ways to solve a problem. Someone is charged with capturing the ideas in a list. The key to successful brainstorming is that the participants are charged with NOT reacting to ideas at all at the outset. Judgments from others will stifle the impulse to say what is coming to mind. You might, therefore, miss the very idea or kernel of an idea, that could unlock the whole puzzle. After you have exhausted your resourcefulness, then go back and review the whole lot to determine where pragmatic suggestions lie. Sometimes that will be achieved by combining concepts. Sometimes you will need to return to the brainstorming.

Other skills you will need to learn before being involved in mediation or negotiation include how to generate proposals and how to give feedback about received proposals. Proposals should usually be exchanged mutually. That puts both sides at risk of rejection or acceptance. A valuable proposal will have balanced the needs of all involved. It will not be presented as a "Take it or leave it" proposition unless you are in the unfortunate situation of negotiating on the brink of trial. Instead, expect that you should allow the other side an opportunity to consider, reflect, consult with counsel, and return with an answer. Of course, the flip side of this is true also. You should not be expected to give a final answer on the spot either. Ask for time to consider.

Given that a recipient should not be expected to immediately accept or reject a proposal, it is nevertheless imperative that the recipient give feedback at the time of the exchange, without agreeing with or rejecting the proposal. You might need some help learning how to do this effectively. Again, a good divorce coach could be invaluable in this preparatory work.

Your attorney may counsel you not to commit finally to anything in session. She or the coach should also guide you in how to give feedback, such as:

Positive reaction: "This seems like a good proposal. (Maybe share some piece that you like about it.) Still, I need to discuss it with my attorney and I will get back with you at our next session."


Negative reaction: "There is something about this that is bothering me but I can't put my finger on it just now. (Or, the support proposal is not consistent with my current assessment of my needs.) I will discuss this with my lawyer and get back with you with responses and possibly offer an updated proposal on Monday."


"I expect you will need to discuss this with your attorney and get back with me at our next session. Still, without locking yourself into anything, can you give me a feel for how this proposal is sitting with you?"

Timeframes are another part of making and responding to proposals. The specifics of the time before a response is needed can be affected by the urgency or lack thereof of the particular decision to be made. For example, "next week" may be fine for a decision about a change in parenting time in the following month and "before X DATE" may be required for decisions about summer camp.

Learning during the divorce process how to master these skills is excellent practice for parents who will have to continue to manage co-parenting challenges for years to come.