Ransom Paid, Going Free Now
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree of Freedom .
You’d think, after writing one last big check and going another $35,000 in debt that I’d be in a really foul mood. Instead, I feel like celebrating. I feel like I just made the last installment payment on my ransom and I can burn the loan documents to…me.
It was the last of what I had to do to comply with my divorce agreement, the check being due to my ex no later than 12 months after our settlement document was signed. I dropped it off at his lawyer’s office today, one day under the deadline, to make sure there was no doubt in his lawyer’s eyes that I’d complied and no cause to put a lien against my house. I didn’t realize until I left how much I’d been holding onto my consternation over this last task. I haven’t spoken much about it to anyone, other than my closest friends, but I’m ready to release it now. I don’t think even my closest friends know how much this particular task bothered me, beyond the obvious financial cringing.
On the last day of our negotiation, my ex sat in my lawyer’s conference room with his lawyer, scoping out the financial situation, while I sat in my lawyer’s office next door, with that Sinead O’Connor song running through my head…. “This is the last day of our acquaintance…I will meet you later in somebody’s office….” There’s no way the legal dissolution of my marriage could be an emotionless event, not for me, even when the marriage itself had been over for a long while and I’d thought every possible emotion had already been wrung out of me.
Though I make my living as a professional negotiator, I knew better than to handle the negotiations myself, and I was very grateful for my lawyer’s performance. The quickest way to lose in a negotiation is to lose your head or your heart. I was an emotional mess, but my lawyer was definitely a champion for me, whispering encouraging words and telling me I’d be all right.
I’d entered our marriage in tears of relief when the wedding ceremony was finally done, thanks to worry over some Georgia-hick, wedding-crashing relatives. I guess it was fitting that it would end the same way, with tears, both in the marital relationship on 19 November 2002 and the legal relationship on 17 November 2004.
During this particular negotiation meeting, I felt a spark of hope about ten minutes before our allotted conference time was up. The hope that it would be settled that day and over, finally over, and I could move on with the business of healing and maybe one day forgetting the look in his eyes that told me our marriage was over.
We’d settled everything, or so I thought. The custody arrangements, the state-mandated child support formula, the tax exemptions, the waiver of alimony, the split of assets with me buying out his share of the house, the college funds and retirement accounts and everything I could think of.
The lawyers both seemed pleased that we’d reached an agreement without bloodshed. I’d made concessions I didn’t really care for, deep and painful ones, but getting on with my life was more important to me than exactly how much stock we had or exactly which account was pre-marital. Ten more minutes, I could leave this dreadful scene behind me forever. My lawyer told me I was looking better, that I was actually breathing again.
Then his lawyer returned, a little sheepish, with a list of additional demands before we could wrap up. Some were nickel-and-dime things, like his back-taxes that I’d argued with him to pay and penalties on his back-taxes, but the kicker was the $35,000 payment.
From a negotiation standpoint, it was a classic move and one that, in my emotional morass, I honestly didn’t see coming. One he could pat himself on the back for and definitely feel superior about, and rightfully so. He got me. He won.
I’m used to dealing with Department of Defense contractors, some honorable and some quite slimy, but once we reach agreement and the concessions are made, we don’t introduce anything new to negotiate. Everything is on the table at the time of the agreement. I realize this isn’t necessarily the way of business outside of dealing with the Federal Government and cutting a deal under the auspices of the Truth In Negotiations Act (TINA), but it was the type of negotiation I’d expected.
Long ago, one of my mentors, Joe Lunsford, had told me to negotiate at bottom line. Joe, rest his soul, said I’d lose in a grand way if I negotiated item by item. He’d told me never to agree until I’d seen everything and only when there was nothing left to discuss and all issues were closed. I’ve lived my professional life by that advice.
So I was stunned when, instead of a signature, my ex’s lawyer walked back into my lawyer’s office with a few minutes to spare and a list of four more things he wanted—and I was all out of concessions. It didn’t just strike me down on a personal level or a financial level, but it hit me professionally, too.
If I’m such a good negotiator for the Government, how did I end up painted into a corner with $35,000 more to pay? My lawyer quickly dissolved the other three demands, all minor concessions anyway—another classic negotiation technique—but I was still stuck with a choice of whether to agree to the $35,000. How much longer did I want to drag this torture out?
I knew when I agreed to it that it was not what Lorna-the-Negotiator would have done on the job. Lorna-the-Negotiator would have considered new demands as reopening negotiations and would have held out another six months and gone after subpoenas on stocks and various things that just didn’t add up to me. Lorna-the-Negotiator would have considered it an insult to the integrity of the negotiation. Lorna-the-Negotiator would have been tenacious. Lorna-the-Negotiator would have been a real mama tiger to deal with.
But Lorna-the-Woman was tired, and hurting, and just wanting to be free.
So, here, I release this. This check doesn’t represent my failure as a professional negotiator.
It represents not spending another six months or another day on scrambling to find paperwork and account for this and account for that instead of concentrating on healing. It represents not spending another night keening on the front doorstep at 2 a.m. It represents not spending another minute in the past with a marriage that had legal tentacles reaching into my present.
It represents paying my ransom and going free.
It also represents the fact that if I ever again tangle with him legally, I’m past my emotional crisis, and it won’t be Lorna-the-Woman he’ll be dealing with.