One party creates a proposal for review by the other party. If the proposal is acceptable then a separation agreement (in court the document is called Minutes of Settlement) is created. It is signed and the parties get on with their lives. This sounds wonderful but caution is advised.

If you make a proposal do you put your best foot forward? Or, do you put forth something you hope the other party will accept or that you know the other party will not accept and you wonder what the counter-proposal will be? It can become a game - a very expensive, divisive game which can have potentially disastrous results.

The risk is that it is not very often that proposals are accepted by the other party. I have seen clients make a proposal that they feel is reasonable to their spouse. Their spouse reacts with indignation and says, "that is a terrible proposal - my spouse is unreasonable. I can not negotiate with that person so I have to go to court".

That is one thing that has changed over the years I have been practising - no clients want to go to court anymore. They have heard the horror stories and know that only lawyers benefit from court. I am not a fan of the court process.

"In the vast majority of cases, there is no need to go to court. So, what we want to be careful about is having one party provide a proposal which results in the other party feeling like he or she has to go to court."

Proposals are also dangerous because they can make people dig in their heels. I had a file where my client the husband offered to rollover a sum of money in his R.R.S.P. to the wife in exchange for a waiver of spousal support. When she received the proposal she fired her lawyer. She hired a new ‘litigation’ lawyer at $400.00 per hour.. A court application was commenced. Tens of thousands of dollars were spent (or wasted) in legal fees. A year and a half later a resolution on the eve of trial was achieved. Neither party was happy with the result. When I netted out the result, only the lawyers won - both clients lost. Be careful about making proposals - it may be a good idea for your file but I have seen it backfire.

So, clients are thinking if making a proposal is not an option for me and I do not want to go to court then what do I do? The answer is have a meeting. Good things happen when people sit down together in a safe environment, with someone who knows what they are talking about and discuss the issues in a civilized and dignified manner. Whoever goes to the meeting has to listen - really listen. The only question for me is who goes to the meeting?