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How Would Divorce Lawyers Mediate the Shutdown Debate?
We talked to a few who had suggestions for both the White House and House Republicans.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall of the latest round of negotiations between House Republicans and the White House. For nearly two weeks Congress and the White House have behaved like a dysfunctional married couple, turning what should be a practical negotiation into an emotional tit-for-tat. We sought the opinions of some of the area’s top divorce lawyers. Here’s what they had to say about how they would handle the warring parties in the federal shutdown debacle.
James W. Korman, Bean, Kinney & Korman, Arlington
“Most families don’t have 300 million members.” He recommends “mediation with a strong and wise evaluative mediator respected by both camps.” Any suggestions? “Nelson Mandela is ill. Winston Churchill is deceased. Henry Kissinger?”
Susan Friedman, Kuder, Smollar & Friedman, DC
“We would use the same procedure we use in our work. The parties agree in front of each other they want an agreement; they agree to keep at it until they do; they can only make principled arguments, not attack the other; and agree to certain basic principles.” Another option, she says, is to tell them how much it will cost them to fight, to make them “have skin in the game.” For example: “Have their salaries go to fund Head Start, just as client funds go toward the education of the attorneys’ children.”
Ronald L. Ogens, Offit/Kurman, Bethesda
“While I would like to divorce each of our representatives from the seats they hold, I do think a refusal to ever negotiate allows the parties to reach agreement, particularly on anything that is important to both sides.” He does not, however, favor the tactic of intransigence, “repeatedly sending to the other side more or less the same offer. These tactics, in the world of divorce, custody, alimony, child support, and property division, would have sent the parties into litigation, at great expense to each and with each side destroying goodwill between the parties.” He says that has been the scenario, up until now, between the House Republicans and President Obama.
“Each side is now digging in its heels, but not about the issues in contention, but rather a reluctance to give in to the other side,” says Ogens. “In family law, the reluctance to give in or seem weak almost always ends in a stalemate, which is not the goal of either party (husband and wife or Republicans and Democrats).” He says that in divorce negotiations “we like to avoid spending negotiating capital on an issue that is already set (for example, Obamacare). Let’s say the parties had already been divorced and now two years later they are discussing a change in custody . . . and the other side says, ‘What’s changed since our agreement? [passing Obamacare]. Absent any material change in circumstances, why should the custody agreement be changed?”
Maybe today the marital squabble between the House and the White House will be resolved, maybe the stalemate will collapse, maybe the shutdown will end, and maybe by this time next week federal workers will be back at their desks, still digging out from under almost two weeks of piled up business. Maybe.