I hate conflict. That’s why I do this. But sometimes, it is inevitable. Indeed, if not for conflict, you wouldn’t be reading this right now.

You can imagine family dispute resolution sessions however you like. One suggestion, though, is to imagine duelling cowboys. I like this analogy for two reasons. Firstly, unlike many other hero/villain storylines, cowboys tend to show their good and bad side – you know, like actual human beings. Secondly, there is a respectful sophistication to this style of ‘fight’. There’s order. There’s rules. And the cowboys, at least in the films I have watched, respect those rules.

I’m not going to lie, my analogy kind of takes a screaming halt at this point, because the reference to ‘the good, the bad, and the ugly’ refers to the plans/proposals/bottom line you bring in to the session, and how to ensure you are best ‘armed’ to improve your chance of a reasonable outcome. Also, I haven’t seen that movie, and I feel like a fraud stealing the phrase. Is it even a movie? Or just a phrase from a movie? I feel like a terrible person right now. But moving on.

We all enter a negotiation with our preferred outcome in mind. The best outcome. Exactly. What. We. Want. We also usually have a bottom line. We don’t want to reach that bottom line, but it’s there, and it has a use. Like a reserve price at an auction. It will do.

So what is ‘the good, the bad, and the ugly’???

  • The Good – that perfect settlement outcome or parenting arrangement, exactly as you want it.
  • The Bad – what you think is your ‘bottom line’ but is actually, probably, your reasonable point to which you are willing to compromise. It’s not ideal, but you will take it.
  • The Ugly – this is the worst case scenario. It isn’t what you want at all. You probably haven’t even though about it yet.

Clearly ‘The Good’ is obvious, and you will likely already have this very neatly pictured in your head, or jotted down on paper ready to take into the session. Good work. Make sure you do this.

The Bad might require a little bit of work, but ensure you add this to your picture or you notes. It gives you scope to negotiate and could perhaps grow more palatable as you speak with your former partner and gain better insight into their position.

An example of these may be that your ‘Good’ is to have your children stay with you every second weekend, Friday to Monday, pick up from and drop off to school. The ‘Bad’ may be that you have to drop them back to the other parent on a Sunday evening, as that’s what they have tended to want in the past, and although you despise having to have contact with them, you will tolerate it for the benefit of the time you have with your children.

Given your acrimonious relationship, you have avoided speaking with your former partner around their demands for this particular drop off time, however, during the session, they mention that the children enjoy a family dinner with their great grandmother every Sunday night. Maybe this is more poignant as the great grandmother is very elderly and very unwell. Suddenly, your ‘Bad’ takes on a very different tone and compromise is more readily reached.

What about ‘The Ugly’ though? Why on earth would you consider the very worst case scenario? Here are a few reasons:

  • Preparedness – if you have considered what the very worst case scenario might be, you are less inclined to reactive emotively to it during the session, and can better manage your response to it thereafter.
  • Strategy – much like lawyers, playing devil’s advocate and looking at the other side of the argument can better prepare you for your own strategy and plan of attack – this is by no means about manipulation or being devious, but rather considering what you could share with the other person that may shift them from the worst position and improve your chances of reaching an agreement.
  • Alternatives – by considering the worst case scenario, you can possibly plan for an offer some alternatives, rather than being put on the spot and having no ideas up your sleeve.

So whether you want to jot it on a notepad, record a memo on your phone, or have entire options drafted up and planned out in a beautiful printed document, just make sure you have a few options in that holster.