The “What-If?” Scenarios

The “What-If?” Scenarios by Susan Ingram

{4 minutes to read}

One of the most important functions I can perform for my divorcing clients is to help them work through the various “What If?” scenarios as they make their decisions in mediation. A “What If?” scenario is an exploration of various possible outcomes to a question that has been raised in regard to an important issue. Exploring the options will facilitate reaching the best decision for a couple.

I know it’s hard to understand this in the abstract, so let me give you a good example of what I’m talking about. Some of my couples own their home or apartment. They may still be living together when they first come to mediation or one of them may already have moved out. They may or may not have children.

Tom and Andrea*, a couple that I’m working with now, have a daughter who is 12 years old. They are still living together in the condo apartment they jointly bought several years ago in Manhattan. They believe it makes sense for Andrea to continue living in the co-op while Tom moves into a rental apartment. They are both very involved parents and intend to share parenting time with their daughter as equally as possible. Money is tight for them, as it is for most divorcing couples who now have to support two households instead of just one. I had them work on their individual budgets and then we discussed and fine tuned the budgets together.

When I asked them what they thought they’d do with the condo long-term, they said they’d address that issue later on after their daughter graduated from high school. Basically, they thought they could “agree to agree” later on and simply state that fact in their settlement agreement. I explained to them that such language would not be at all adequate for the agreement. They needed to discuss their various options in mediation now and decide what they will do, so their decision will be reflected in the details of the agreement itself.

Among the “What If?” options/questions I’m helping them explore are:

  1. Would it be more viable financially for them to sell the condo sooner rather than later?
  2. Do they want to hold on to the condo until their daughter graduates from high school or some other defining event?
  3. Would it be feasible for Andrea to buy out Tom’s interest in the condo in the next year or so?
  4. If they decide to sell the condo, do they want to give one or the other the prior option to purchase it individually?
  5. If neither is interested in keeping the condo, when will they put it up for sale and what process will be followed for contacting a realtor, setting a price, etc.?
  6. How will they share in the proceeds (pro-rata, equally, etc.) from the sale?

The example above is just one issue — what to do about the house. There are many other issues that can benefit from the “What If?” approach. A thorough exploration of the “What If?” scenarios will result in a well drafted settlement agreement that properly articulates and protects the rights of both parties.

*Not their real names

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