Negotiation or the “Kitchen Table Approach”
This process involves both parties sitting down together to try to reach an agreement on their own. If you have a respectful relationship with your former partner and still communicate well, the idea is to work together to create a parenting plan, divide any assets and debts, and sort out any support issues. Each party takes responsibility for obtaining their own legal or professional advice regarding the final agreement, and then one party’s lawyer drafts the agreement for both to sign.
In this model each party has hired a lawyer to represent them. The respective lawyers then negotiate a settlement based on the law and the specific circumstances of the parties. These negotiations may occur over the phone, in person or by way of letter. They may also occur at a “four-way meeting” (below).
A four-way meeting is an informal conference between two opposing parties and their respective lawyers. A four-way meeting is a great way for all involved to get on the same page and discuss solutions in a casual setting. These meetings usually take place at one lawyer’s office (whoever has the space to host) and can last a few hours or continue over a few days.
The Final Product
When you and your former spouse have negotiated all of the outstanding issues, it is best to put those decisions into writing. This usually takes the form of either a Separation Agreement or a Consent Order. You or your lawyer can draft this, but if you do decide to draft your own agreement you should always seek Independent Legal Advice (link) before signing anything to ensure your interests are being protected. It is critical that both parties understand their legal rights and obligations under the Family Law Act, Divorce Act, Child Support Guidelines, and Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines before agreeing to contact out of or around those rights. You can then file your Separation Agreement and Consent Order at the court registry in case of the need for future enforcement.
Top Tips: Negotiation
- Focus on your goals. Don’t waste your time or money by fighting or rehashing the past.
- Be respectful. Don’t interrupt someone who is talking.
- Be ready to compromise. Negotiation is about give and take, so have an idea of what your “wiggle room” looks like before you start.
- Try not to let your emotions get the best of you. Four-way meetings can run long and can be mentally gruelling. Ask for breaks when you need them to avoid getting overwhelmed.
- If you have your lawyer with you, use them. Let them speak for you when it’s appropriate and ask to pause the meeting to speak to them privately if you need to ask questions.
- Go in with an open mind and a sense of humour. Being open, maintaining a friendly demeanor, and making the occasional joke are good ways to relieve tension and put everyone at ease.