Life Isn’t Fair and Neither is Divorce
As soon as the thought of divorce enters your head, immediately your thoughts will turn to your future and fears of what may happen. “I can’t make it financially to live on my own.” Or “How much will I have to pay to support my spouse and the kids?” “I’ll be living in poverty!”
A world of what if’s and unknowns reveal themselves in an avalanche of financial and emotional realities that must be answered. Despite the headlines about vindictive nasty divorces, my experience is that most couples really want to work things out that are fair for all involved. Because few divorce cases go to court, you may be wondering what a fair separation agreement looks like and how to get a fair divorce in the end.
So, what is a fair divorce? The problem with "fair" is that everyone has a different opinion on what is fair. There are several factors that help to determine what is fair to ask for in a divorce. The length of the marriage and what is considered joint or separate property are the two key factors. There are other factors considered important when it comes to determining what is or is not fair. These other factors include emotions leading to, or as a result of, the impending divorce, perceived wrongs that demand to be righted, and apologies that remained unspoken. Unfortunately, these factors have little influence on the determination of what is fair. A fair divorce settlement may look like two mountains separated by a river of conflict and resentments. This is the simple truth that has created a multi-billion-dollar divorce industry. What if there is a different answer?
First, both parties must establish a budget based on expected outcomes. When children are involved, child support may take priority over any spousal support. All states have rules and formulas for determining a fair and equitable divorce. These can be used as a starting point for determining how to get a fair divorce settlement. However, these are just guidelines. Remember one key point, this is your divorce. What you and your soon-to-be ex consider fair in your eyes is by far the easiest way to approach a settlement. You both can dictate what you want to do and how you want to split assets and allocate spousal and child support. As long as both of you agree, the settlement is finished and can be executed. If lawyers are involved, they must adhere to your wishes. You don’t need the lawyer’s permission or agreement to finalize your divorce.
If you have already lawyered up, keep in mind that each of your lawyers are trying to get the most for each of you. How much back and forth is it going to take before you get to a point that makes sense and will meet your needs? How long will all this take and how much will it cost each of you going back and forth? What about the emotional toll it will take to continue to drag on this process? In the end, it will always be what a court considers fair and reasonable. Trust me, the court’s definition is nothing close to your definition of fair.
Now, what if you forget the word fair? I know, sounds crazy but try to look beyond today and see what your post-divorce life will look like. What if each party didn’t worry about what the other person was getting or not getting. Instead, what if both of you sat down with a divorce financial planner and simply figured out what each of you needs for yourselves to be ok. Don’t think about what you feel you deserve. Unfortunately, you can not put a price on emotions or perceived wrongs. You are not going to be able to take the hurt away nor separate your past experiences from this process. With that said, try to keep your emotions in check when discussing the outcomes necessary for you to move forward in your post-divorce world.
So now you have an idea of what finances you need. Great! But now what? Who is going to make sure things are divided? Who is going to keep everyone accountable and remind them of the goals?
Here is an idea. Instead of starting out with a lawyer, what if you sat down with a mediator and start from there? Maybe it’s not equal. Maybe it’s not “fair”. Maybe it just works for everyone involved! A mediator won’t take sides and will assist in achieving a solution that you both can agree on. Now that is a win/win solution! If children are involved, remember, you will still be their parents. How do you want your relationships with them to progress? Do you want your children to remember or continue to relive a bitter divorce?
So fair schmair! It will not matter in the big scheme of life. Stay focused on the next chapter of your life and how you can move into a healthy and happy life that preserves your family for the future. I always tell my clients, my goal is to help you be the best divorced family you can be, because you’re still a family.