What are Kitchen Table Conversations in a Divorce?
One term that you may hear during your divorce is “Kitchen Table Conversations.” In a kitchen table conversation, negotiations and discussions occur directly between the spouses. The phrase “kitchen table” is often applied to this informal negotiation option because people envision it as two people sitting at a kitchen table talking through the issues in their divorce.
Read on to learn more about kitchen table conversations and divorce — including the pros and cons.
Kitchen Table Conversations and Divorce Litigation
The three major approaches to divorce in Connecticut are:
Mediation and collaborative divorce are forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution, or “ADR,” and take place almost entirely outside of the court system. If you and your spouse do not both agree to opt-in to mediation or collaborative divorce, you will have a litigated divorce.
That isn’t the end of the story, though. Litigations range from exceedingly low conflict — where spouses are able to reach agreements on all issues in their divorce without court intervention — to extremely high conflict — where spouses cannot reach agreements on anything and a judge winds up ruling on your divorce following a trial. Kitchen table conversations are one tool divorce attorneys sometimes recommend to help clients resolve litigated divorces outside of court and keep divorces low conflict.
Pros and Cons of Kitchen Table Conversations
There are pros and cons to using the kitchen table conversation as a settlement tool in your divorce. Your divorce lawyer will give you her insights about your particular case, but generally speaking, here are some of the pros and cons:
You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
The conversational nature of a kitchen table conversation can mean that your spouse may bring up an issue that you didn’t anticipate and haven’t yet discussed with your attorney. The desire to remain low conflict combined with the casual setting may lead you to agree to things right in the moment. We often see two major issues arise when that happens. First, because you haven’t discussed the issue with your lawyer and don’t fully understand it, you may come to regret your agreement once you have gone over it with your lawyer and do understand its legal implications and impact on your future. Second, it’s hard to “walk back” an ill-advised agreement that you made during a kitchen conversation. Not doing so leaves you stuck with a bad agreement, doing so can break trust with your ex and make it difficult to reach agreements going forward.
Pre-Plan Any Kitchen Table Conversations With Your Attorney and Keep Them Streamlined
Discuss any kitchen table conversations with your lawyer in advance so that you have a tailored plan for what you want to discuss and accomplish. Your attorney has a specific legal strategy in mind in order to assist you in obtaining your goals, and you want to make sure any kitchen table conversations are a well-thought-out part of that plan. Discussions directly between spouses can be an efficient way of resolving a distinct issue — but they can also go sideways fast.
Take a Beat if Your Spouse Initiates a Kitchen Table Conversation
It may catch you a little off guard if your spouse is the one to initiate a kitchen table conversation. Often it is a great sign that your spouse is open to trying to reach resolutions. In order to avoid one of the pitfalls we mentioned above — reaching agreements without the benefit of prior discussion with your lawyer — a good approach is often to be open to the conversation and do more listening than talking. You can thank your spouse for sharing with you and explain that you are going to take some time to consider what was shared. In that way, you keep the lines of negotiation open without committing to something you may wind up regretting.
It’s also important to note that in some cases, spouses are less well-intentioned when they open up a direct dialogue with you. They may be trying to separate you from your lawyer so that you make agreements in their favor without the benefit of your attorney’s advice. They may even go so far as to try to trick you into thinking that they are on your side and that your lawyer is against you. The key to avoiding this potential trap is not to agree to anything without first taking the opportunity to discuss the proposal with your attorney. Once you fully understand it and all its implications, you can then decide whether to reach an agreement.
What Other Tools Do Divorce Lawyers’ Use to Resolve Litigation Outside of Court?
In addition to kitchen table conversations, lawyers use several other tools to resolve divorce litigations outside of court.
Four Way Meetings
A four-way meeting, or “four-way” for short, is what we call it when the two spouses and their attorneys sit down informally and attempt to negotiate and reach resolutions to some or all of the outstanding issues in their divorce. In some ways, it’s like a kitchen table conversation with the lawyers present.
Negotiation Between Attorneys
It’s very common for the spouses’ respective lawyers to negotiate resolutions to issues in a divorce.
Although we tend to think of mediation and one of the three major approaches to a divorce, it can also be used as a tool to resolve outstanding items in a divorce. For example, the spouses’ lawyers may recommend bringing in a neutral mediation to try to resolve the divorce prior to trial. Generally, a retired judge or an experienced divorce attorney will serve as the mediator. The mediator’s role isn’t to issue rulings. However, the mediator may give recommendations based upon his or her experience in order to help the spouses understand what a trial judge might do as they attempt to reach a resolution on their own.
In some cooperative litigations, the spouses’ lawyers will suggest that they work with a neutral parenting coordinator to help them develop a parenting plan. This is inspired by the divorce coach/child specialist role in collaborative divorce. The parenting coordinator is typically a mental health professional, with a background in child development.
In an arbitration, unlike in a mediation, you are asking the neutral arbitration to make a decision that you both agree to live by. Sometimes arbitration in divorces is used to resolve discreet issues, like personal property division.
A pretrial conference is a settlement meeting required by the court. Otherwise put, a pretrial is when the court brings the parties together to assist them in deciding how to resolve their disputes themselves. There are two types of pretrials in Connecticut divorces — special masters pretrials and judicial pretrials. In both, professionals experienced with Connecticut divorce law are there to help the parties reach an agreement. At a judicial pretrial, that person is a judge. In a special masters pretrial, one or two experienced divorce lawyers volunteer their time to assist spouses in resolving their disputes.
For more information about Connecticut divorce and family law, check out our Divorce Information and Facts.