Can game theory be used in divorce mediation?

A recent article in the New York Times, using the current 2016 presidential race, discusses the idea of Game Theory and how it can be applied to Politics. The article involves the two Republican candidates Marco Rubio and John Kasich, and discusses how the principles of game theory can keep Kasich in the race. These principles of Game Theory apply to divorce mediation in a myriad of ways.


Candidates much like a divorcing couple, play a game of “chicken.” It is dangerous and could end in tragedy. Each party drives straight toward the other one, thus leaves the divorcing couple at odds.


The NYT article cites that “side deals, bargains or promises are the way negotiations actually get done.” But promises simply lead to brinkmanship, which is defined as “the art or practice of pursuing a dangerous policy to the limits of safety before stopping.” Brinkmanship was a tactic used in the Cold War, and this can still put the couple on opposite sides of the table.


Threats in order to force a concession. Though this strategy would not serve the best interests of the couple, it could be a very useful bargaining chip. Basically being “crazy” only works if one’s opponent believes it. With divorce, threats are threats and can lead to ugly consequences.

So what is the best strategy of all?


According to the article: “Once in a while, Mr. Kasich might try to win the contest outright against long odds, but, on average, he would probably agree that cooperating, including alternating victories, was the best way to serve his and Mr. Rubio’s shared interests.” Therefore, game theory demonstrates that with constant issues or problems, that persist, cooperation is the most stable strategy. For divorcing couples, this strategy often wins in divorce mediation, especially with a written agreement that clearly outlines the new boundaries and relationship.

Parties in a divorce are in the famous “Prisoner’s Dilemma” situation, in which it looks like it is better to compete for money, property, and parenting time.  However, when both parties empty this strategy, they each end up win a worse case scenario.  We must realize that going through divorce causes great anxiety, and this often propels parties to engage in a number of competitive game strategies, which include Chicken, the Monster and the Princess, the Bully, and the Victim.  A sophisticated mediator can help both parties transform these futile competitive games into mutual and reciprocal, cooperation, thereby getting both parties most of what they want and, in some cases, more than that.


If you are thinking about divorce mediation with your spouse, BCS Mediation focuses on mediation for high-net worth individuals and technology executives in Silicon Valley and the Santa Clara area. Oftentimes, mediation is the right step for a divorcing couple, and we’re happy to guide you through the process. Please contact us today at 415.830.0065.