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Why Your Ideal Settlement Might Not Be So Ideal

In the midst of a divorce, it’s natural to cling desperately to the concept of fairness. Thoughts along the lines of  “I deserve half!” or “It’s not fair that they get to keep…” tend to run on repeat in our heads. While the desire for a just outcome is understandable, it’s important to realize that your personal definition of “fair” might actually be a roadblock to reaching an agreeable settlement.

Problem #1: Your Fair Might Be Their Unfair

Fairness is subjective. What feels fair to you might feel deeply unjust to your spouse and vice versa. Here’s a few examples of how this plays out according to a family lawyer:

  • The stay-at-home parent: If you sacrificed career advancement to raise the kids, you might feel it’s fair to be compensated with a bigger share of the assets. Your spouse might argue their earning power enabled that choice, and the split should reflect that contribution.
  • Debt responsibility: You might believe debts incurred during the marriage should be split evenly, while your spouse may feel responsible only for debts they personally benefited from.
  • Sentimental items: The family home may hold enormous sentimental value for you, making you feel entitled to it, while your spouse might view it simply as a financial asset to be liquidated.

Rigidly sticking to your individual sense of fairness without acknowledging the other side’s perspective can lead to an impasse, with both of you feeling wronged.

Problem #2:  Fair Doesn’t Mean Getting Everything You Want

In divorce, the true sense of ‘fairness’ often lies in compromise, not getting your ideal scenario. You might imagine fairness as keeping the house, getting your desired custody arrangement, and taking no joint debts. But that’s rarely a realistic expectation. Here’s why:

  • State laws: Some state divorce laws focus on “equitable distribution” not an automatic 50/50 split. Factors like income disparity, each party’s contributions to the marriage, and future earning potential are all considered.
  • Hidden costs: Getting attached to a specific outcome can blind you to hidden costs. Fighting for the house might mean taking on significant debt, while accepting a buyout could free you up financially.
  • Emotional toll: Prolonging the process to get “your fair share” can drain you emotionally and financially, potentially outweighing what you gain in the end.

Problem #3: The Court Might Not Agree With Your “Fair”

Particularly in contentious cases, there’s a common misconception: If your spouse’s offer feels wildly unfair, the court will surely step in and enforce your version of fair.  However, this often isn’t the case:

  • Judicial discretion: Judges have wide latitude in divorce rulings. Unless a proposal is so lopsided as to be considered unconscionable, the court will likely uphold your agreement, even if slightly tilted. But they do check to see if it’s lopsided or unconscionable.
  • The cost of fighting: Litigating the case in court is expensive and unpredictable. You might end up spending thousands in legal fees to gain only a marginally better outcome.

Finding A New Framework

Letting go of your rigid concept of fairness doesn’t mean giving up on your needs entirely. It means shifting to a more flexible framework:

  • Focus on interests, not positions: Instead of saying “I deserve the house”, ask yourself “What do I need most coming out of this divorce – security, freedom, minimal disruption for the kids?” Those underlying needs can often be met in multiple ways.
  • Be open to compromise: Acknowledge that your spouse has valid needs too, and that finding common ground will likely involve some give and take.
  • Consider the big picture: Short-term wins can have long-term consequences. Weigh the financial and emotional cost of prolonged battles against the peace of mind that might come from a less-than-perfect but swifter resolution.

When To Seek Legal Guidance

If you’re struggling to bridge the fairness gap, a lawyer can be invaluable. According to our friend at Flat Fee Divorce Solutions, a lawyer will bring:

  • Objectivity: An attorney can help you evaluate offers and see beyond the emotional lens of “fair/unfair.”
  • Knowledge of the law: They’ll ensure your agreement aligns with the state’s legal standards, preventing potentially unfair outcomes.
  • Advocacy: If the gap is truly significant, an attorney can negotiate on your behalf and shield you from contentious exchanges.

Divorce is never easy, but fixating on an elusive notion of perfect fairness can make it far harder. By adopting a more flexible mindset and understanding the legal realities, you increase your chances of finding a workable settlement that allows you to move on. If you are thinking about starting a divorce, contact a lawyer near you for help.