A problem that I continually see in child custody conflicts are the perception by parents that they will be giving up control in a custody agreement; that the other parent is imposing a mandate upon me. This cognitive aversion to concession can be the result of the framing of proposals. A recent incident perfectly illustrates this point.
I was asked to install an electrical outlet in the liquor room of a restaurant. I was told where it was to be installed and to access electricity from an existing junction box. In that box was four wires tied together and one pairing that is hot when the light is turned on. So I joined the outlet to the pairing for the light switch instead of creating a grouping of five wires under one nut. This seemed reasonable as anyone who would come in and use the outlet, vacuuming or whatever, would likely turn on the light first. Now I have been asked to come back and rewire it because it was discovered that the refrigerator plugged into that outlet was not staying cool because it would not operate unless the light was turned on.
Therein lies the problem -- I was not told the objective. If I was told that the purpose for my employ was because the owner wanted to operate a refrigerator in the liquor room elementary logic would dictate that I install an outlet for it and ensure that it has a continuous flow of electricity. But instead I was told the process; wire an outlet to a particular point on the wall with no additional condition. It was as though I could have just as easily have been hanging a painting.
It is such hidden objectives that often confound child custody negotiations. I see this uniformly when parents are represented by attorneys. They each submit proposals drafted in the language of a court order; times, locations, duties, and such. Each parent enters the negotiation expecting to chip away his or her proposed order, bit by bit, as little as possible. This is the deconstructive approach. It ensures conflict and burdens negotiation. Contrary to this approach I recommend and present a constructive approach.
I try to minimize the impact of parental difficulties on the relationships as much as possible. Imagine or recall a time prior to the birth of the children when you envisioned your future parenting activities. Which of us detailed a schedule such as “Oh it will be such a joy to be able to play with my child from 3:00pm - 8:00pm beginning on Mondays and Thursdays and following through to the next day except on alternating weekends when the Thursday will continue until Sunday at 7:00pm and that I will be responsible for bathing the child and for providing all regular meals including dinner on those days while in my care and for providing transportation from day-care/school and when being returned on Sunday evenings.” Rather, I contend those fantasies were something more akin to “It will be great to get home from work to see our son, play with him, and prepare meals for him. Of course there will be days that I will want to come home and rest or I will have a client dinner. On those days you have you take care of the children unless you are too tired. If so he can stay at daycare until 6:00” That is the difference between objective and process. Parents usually have similar objectives but conflict is created or exacerbated by process. Process comes cloaked in the presumption of trying to tell the other parent how his or her relationship is going to be controlled.
A negotiation that begins with “What days are going to be the most difficult for you to tend to the children or provide transportation?” is more likely to receive a positive response. In any communication seeking fulfilment of an objective think first are you asking for your process to be fulfilled or your objective. You are more likely to be satisfied when you seek an objective.
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