What our Brexit negotiators could learn from high-profile divorce cases

Kate Daly
The Prime Minster Of the United Kingdom Theresa May Signs Article 50
Source: Getty

Leaving the EU has led many commentators to liken the complex economic negotiations of Brexit to the divorce process that thousands of people face each year.

When you end a relationship, whether with the EU or your partner, there are financial issues that must be negotiated. And how these are conducted is crucial for a positive outcome.

The traditional route of divorce requires each member of a separating couple to have their own solicitor. But this sets up an adversarial, positional negotiation that ignores the interests of the other person.

These types of negotiation will inevitably end in one of two ways: win/lose (with one person left bitter and resentful) or worse, lose/lose (or zero sum) where couples spend most of their assets negotiating or fighting a court battle (in which only the lawyers really win).

While a 50/50 split might feel like a good compromise versus a win/lose scenario, there is an alternative strategy.

A great outcome is guided by two key principles: it is fair and it is efficient. At Amicable we help people with complex or sizable assets to divide the benefits fairly and not leave value on the table.

Here’s how to negotiate a successful separation – be it a marriage, political arrangement, or business relationship.


Exchange goals. Understand what you both want and need out of a settlement in order to be satisfied. By setting objectives together, both sides can focus on what will work for them without taking entrenched positions.

So, for example, an “I want 70 per cent of the assets” position means “you can only have 30 per cent”. But “I need to be able to afford a home” leaves room for both partners to be more than 50 per cent satisfied.


John Nash’s noble prize-winning work says that “without cooperation, competition leads to a non-optimal equilibrium”. In divorce terms, that means value is often left on the table and, consequently, neither party gains maximum satisfaction from the assets under consideration. Cooperation and negotiation are key.

And much of our work at Amicable focuses on helping one partner cooperate and the other negotiate. Fostering a process that ends with a cooperative relationship, rather than an adversarial one, is essential to the onward wellbeing of your children (or citizens).


Family and friends (however well-intentioned) can confuse issues and are best left out of things.

We always recommend working with a skilled professional to broker your agreement, who will ask searching questions to uncover the motivations of statements such as “I want the house”, avoid threats or ultimatums such as “over my dead body”, or worse still, paying for the letter that says“my client does not agree to yours retaining the matrimonial home”.

Working with a professional at an interest level vs positional level ensures value is not left on the table, and both parties get more.

I hope the government takes the co-operation principle seriously, understanding that there are lots of children of the EU and UK relationship. Our success depends on their ability to divorce effectively.

Every day I see that a divorce process that leaves both people better equipped to deal with their co-parenting relationship or doesn’t leave them bankrupt after a huge legal battle, is the best possible outcome for all concerned.

Maybe satisfaction, co-operation and communication were lacking in your marriage, but they should most definitely not be lacking in your divorce – or indeed Brexit.