Fairness is not an “F-word”

Having Fair Standards: A Divorce Without Lawyers

When you divorce without lawyers, some divorce professionals (like mediators) tell divorcing spouses not to use the term ‘fair’ when discussing what they want in a divorce agreement: “Fair is an F-word. We don’t use it here. You’re not going to get fairness. You’re going to get a divorce.”

But many don’t agree with this philosophy, perceiving that it confuses the necessity of learning to accept life’s inevitable setbacks (“life isn’t fair”) with the equally important task of helping one another find meaning and value in life by offering fairness wherever it can be found. And it can be found—even in the midst of a difficult divorce.

Naturally, how you define fairness may be quite different from how I define it. What seems entirely fair to you may seem outrageously unjust to me. And therein lies the problem when negotiating: How do we reach a mutually acceptable definition of fairness that allows us to settle our differences? And fairly so?

Achieving that standard isn’t always easy but it is absolutely worth striving for—and not a goal that should be dismissed as naive and pointless. Like so many aspects to negotiating or mediating a divorce or a parenting plan, the answers lies in attending, separately, to the way you negotiate as well as to what has to be settled.

A fair way is a fair process: identifying each family member’s interests, respecting alternate points-of-view, providing a safe environment for creative brainstorming, avoiding personal attack and deceit, and not relying upon coercion and bullying to persuade agreement. In other words, a fair process means playing fair. It is about civility, courtesy and respect — the very values that parents want to teach their children.

And to determine what is fair, you can often turn to external standards and guidelines. Whenever possible, obtain the facts:

  • Unsure about the value of a family car? Check the Blue Book for an objective, neutral figure.
  • Not sure how to estimate the current equity in your home? Consider taking the average of two neutral appraisals as an agreed upon “fair value.” Or check the tax records for the appraised value.
  • Puzzled and worried about the best parenting time schedule for a preschooler? Consider what the psychological research and outside experts say about what young children of divorce really need.

Fairness: Playing fair; seeking fair standards.

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