Kitchen Table Negotiations: Benefits and Risks

There are a number of options available to couples who are getting a divorce.  The choice of a divorce process can have a substantial impact on the tone and outcome of the whole case.  Those choices include mediation, Collaborative divorce, litigation before a judge, arbitration and a process called “kitchen table negotiations”.

The kitchen table negotiation process is so named because it involves two divorcing people meeting in an informal setting – such as the kitchen table in their own home – to discuss between them the terms of their divorce.  These discussions generally do not involve outside voices such as lawyers or mediators and do not involve outside decision-makers such as a judge or arbitrator.

The benefits to a kitchen table negotiation begin with control of the outcome.  Divorcing spouses who are communicating well and can come together to make agreements do not want their ability to work together to be interrupted by outside influences.  If both spouses agree that a particular arrangement is fair and desirable, couples may wish to limit contact with well-meaning advisors who might inadvertently attempt to talk them out of their mutually agreed terms.  The ability to work together and to make an independent decision about what is fair are the primary benefits to the kitchen table negotiation process.  The other main benefit is cost.  Two divorcing parties discussing issues at the kitchen table is free.

If the process sounds good so far, keep a few cautions in mind before proceeding. Divorce is a legal process, which means that there are procedures and paperwork that must be done and done correctly in order to complete the process.  This often involves the need to engage an attorney on a limited basis, not to interrupt agreements, but to prepare appropriate and effective paperwork.  While you may have a desire to spend as little money as possible on your divorce, trying to draft legal paperwork yourself may lead to expensive mistakes.  For instance, people who draft their own paperwork often leave out crucial terms and issues that need to later be fixed by lawyers.  The fixing process is much more expensive than simply having a lawyer draft settlement documents to begin with.  Spend a little money now to save expensive fixes later.  The other important caveat to keep in mind is that negotiating without a legal advisor means you could be receiving a settlement that is not as favorable as the law allows.  You may consider an informational consultation with an attorney before you negotiate to ensure that you have the right issues in mind.

When choosing the right attorney to assist with your kitchen table process, ask questions and make clear the expectations you have for the role of the attorney.  Choose an attorney who will not seek to create conflict but will seek to assist you with creating the settlement you want within the law.  Kitchen table negotiation is the right process for some divorcing couples.  If you engage in it, do so knowing the risks and benefits.

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