Close-up partial view of woman taking off wedding ring, divorce concept

{4 minutes to read}  What happens if things don’t work out between us? One thing I have learned in my career as a mediator, is that whatever question is most difficult to ask in a given moment is the one that must be asked and addressed.

All settlement agreements should address the present and the future. This provides couples with a road map that will help them navigate any bumps in the road and enable them to move forward in the smoothest way possible.

The knee-jerk reaction I hear from many couples is that they will cross that bridge when they come to it. They don’t want to have that unpleasant conversation for a few reasons:

1. They want to preserve the peace, and talking about permanent changes may cause conflict.

2. If one of them is holding out hope that they will reconcile, such a conversation can make the outcome too tangible and they aren’t ready for that (hence, the trial separation).

It can feel like an exercise in futility for those who have not accepted that it may be over. This is when I explain to my clients the importance of considering the future. Although unknown, the future must be considered when crafting a sound agreement. What I tell my clients is an agreement that does not provide clarity for more than one year will not serve them for more than one year. That means that they will need to come back, potentially when things are not good between them, to come up with a long-term plan. With that in mind, most of my clients decide to have the hard conversation now, so they don’t need to come back and have it later.

I was working with a couple recently whose separation had been quite amicable. They had agreed to a trial separation, so part of their agreement dealt with their short-term plan:

•What would their parenting plan look like?

•How would they pay their expenses?

•Where would each of them live during the interim period?

This plan was easy for them to discuss, as it was only a slight variation of their marriage arrangement. They were still very much a team, assuming responsibility for one another as they always had.

Next, came the much more difficult question: What happens if things don’t work out between us? Much like estate planning, having a conversation about an unpleasant outcome can be difficult. Couples who choose a temporary separation in the hopes of gaining some perspective are often very uncomfortable talking about what happens if it doesn’t work and they decide they want out for good.

I asked them to imagine what it might look like to permanently separate, and to come up with some goals that each would want to work towards. Although it was a difficult and emotional thing to consider, they were able to come up with a plan now — while they were getting along — that honored their future goals. This way, their agreement would reflect their emotions in a time of accord rather than conflict, and hopefully, make for a smoother transition later. Asking the hard questions can make things easier.