In prior blogs in this series, we wrote about the natural desire to prevail against perceived rivals and the potential use of game theory to understand obstacles in the current legal system as it takes families through separations and divorce. We next focused on how the legal system begins to trap people into self-defeating patterns of decision making: Trap #1 – distracting people from their life goals into thinking that legal outcomes are goals; Trap #2– treating divorce as a zero sum game; Trap #3: the system assuming disputes and seducing parents into thinking the same; Trap #4: treating children as property; Trap #5, acting as if selfishness is the best strategy; Trap #6, believing that winning is critical; and Trap #7: thinking that blame and being angry is better than being sad.
Trap #8 is that the family law syssrtem encourages spouses to make decisions regarding legal goals deductively, rather than inductively. With children, the first question asked is “What type of residential schedule do you want for your children?” This is an invitation to make a deductive plan: start with the overall schedule and then bore down into the details so that they fit with the legal goal. One parent might respond, “I want primary physical custody,” and the other might respond the same or “I want 50/50.” One can see that Traps 1-7 are already in place with this approach, but here we want to focus on Trap 8. The battle begins and when it is over, by settlement or litigation, the rest of the schedule is thrown together without much thought, with holiday templates or an assumption that they will have every other weekend.
The parents end up with a template, which might or might not achieve long term goals for themselves or for their children, often with a good deal of bitterness, rigidity and distrust. The schedule might disrupt important parts of their lives and the children’s lives. An “every other Thanksgiving” might be at the cost of important family traditions. An every other weekend might disrupt religious training. Summers might be incoherent with missed opportunities for activities, social development and education.
Building a schedule inductively is the reverse and treats each part of the schedule as important to the long term goals of the parties. Presume that the process began with questions about the parties long-term goals for their children and assume that both parties want their children to have a good family experience for the remainder of their minority. In an inductive approach, the next question is, “What are your goals for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day – how do they fit into your long term goals?” The holiday schedule is built one holiday at a time, always focused on goals for the holiday and long term family goals. The inductive process continues with vacations, summer weekends and weekdays, other school breaks weekends during the school year and school days. Even days can be inductively planned. Summer days, for example, might be at one house because the parent is a teacher and available, and the evenings and nights might be at the other house. Wednesdays can be with one parent, except the other parent might have the child for confirmation classes for four hours. The result is that piece by piece, a schedule is built inductively, one that is based on the goals of the parties.
The same process can be followed with financial planning. Child support or spousal support can be determined inductively and be substantially more effective, when building a support plan inductively based on goals. Decisions about assets and debts can also be inductive rather than deductive, and the plan can be substantially superior in accomplishing the goals of the parties.
In other words, a far more effective way of building a schedule for children and financial distributions that accomplish important long-term goals is to begin with the focus on the details and build an agreement inductively, rather than deductively.