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What psychological factors are at play during divorce talks?

Property division frequently emerges as one of the more complicated issues in any divorce, trailing perhaps only child custody in terms of overall difficulty.

This is primarily because while the law in this area is very specific and detail-oriented, most couples are not. Specifically, they are more than likely lacking the necessary records proving who owned what both prior to the marriage and during the marriage.

It is this reality coupled with the already challenging range of emotions that makes property division so very difficult.

The good news is that some divorcing couples recognize this and are willing to make things easier on themselves by agreeing to resolve the matter outside of court, perhaps with the assistance of a third-party mediator.

Interestingly enough, however, research has revealed that there are often several psychological factors at play during these types of negotiations that can directly influence the outcome.

What psychological factors can potentially come into play during divorce negotiations?   

A 2009 study found that men and women often take distinctly different approaches when negotiating divorce settlements.

They found that women tend to concentrate on so-called interpersonal goals and that this mindset includes careful consideration of their relationships with others. On the other end of the spectrum, they found that men tend to concentrate more on task-specific goals and don't factor in their relationships with others.

What do these differing concentrations mean for divorce negotiations?  

The researchers concluded that women's concentration on their relationships with others may mean that they are sometimes more focused on preserving their relationship with a former spouse, such that they are comfortable sacrificing some property or other monetary benefits.

Are there other psychological factors that come into play during divorce negotiations?   

Another group of researchers examined the theory of "the endowment effect," meaning people tend to value property more when they actually own it or feel a sense of ownership.

In the context of divorce negotiations, they determined that this means people might value tangible objects like cars and homes -- which they can see, feel, and either own or believe they own -- than intangible objects like retirement accounts or stocks. This is significant because it means people might fail to act in their own best interests by attaching importance to objects of lesser value.

While this type of research is always very interesting, it's important to remember that it's just theory and that people never act in one predefined manner. However, this research does serve to underscore once again how important it is for people to strongly consider having an experienced legal professional by their side during the entire divorce process, as doing so can ensure their rights and best interests are fully protected.

Source: American Psychological Association, "That's mine! Property division in divorce," Ve M. Brank, and Amanda Hussein, Nov. 2012

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