Yes, of course you want “fair”. Don’t we all? But what does that actually mean to you, and why does it matter? Will your spouse’s ideas of “fair” be the same as yours? Are you both at the same stage of grief over the end of your marriage? Are you being driven by the same emotions as your spouse in thinking about what you think is fair? Or might the whole “fair” question be where things start to unravel?
Is your idea of “fair” about:
- punishment and revenge for your disillusionment and hurt about the end of your relationship?
- squaring the ledger for the feeling that you have not been respected, or because you have been taken for granted in your marriage?
- getting what you can right now, because you don’t know what your financial future holds?
- getting whatever your spouse doesn’t want you to have, to show them that you are now going to stand up for yourself?
- revenge for your past dis-empowerment?
- giving you a future because you sacrificed so much in your marriage?
- the fact that you’ve damn well worked for it and now you’re going to get the benefits of it?
- knowing that he/she is going to get a large inheritance down the track, and you’ll never get to share in that?
- the legal advice you’ve had, either from a real lawyer, or from someone who “knows” the law (doesn’t everybody?)
- believing that 50:50 is always fair?
When it comes to ending a relationship or marriage, you can actually only fight about two things, the kids or the money. Most people understand that going into battle about their kids as a way of avenging their anger and fear about the end of their marriage, is potentially harmful to their children. So that leaves the money, right? Hopefully not.
My experience tells me that what people think is a fair settlement is often about their stage of grief at the end of their marriage. Fair to an angry person might look anything but, to someone who is calmer. Fair to someone who is still in denial and may be prepared to be unrealistically generous, will look very different from how it looks to someone who has accepted the reality of their separation.
So when a client asks me what I think is fair, the law is about the last thing I am going to discuss.
Everyone needs to feel that their financial settlement is fair, to be able to live comfortably with it. Recognising the stages of grief in your separation, can help you to know what part of “fair” is being driven by negative emotions, and which is objectively reasonable, so you have the chance to reshape “fair”.
In our upcoming book “Breaking up Without Breaking Down”, Dr Tina Sinclair discusses the five stages of grief originally described by Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, and how they will apply to grieving the end of your marriage.
The five stages of grief are:
It is not until you reach the stage of acceptance that you are likely to be able to focus on the future. At this point, “You realise that the divorce is going ahead and, even if you aren’t happy about it, you can still make the best of it”. So if there is an ideal time to negotiate a financial settlement, it is when you have been through the stages of denial and anger. You might see that “fair” means something different by the time you reach acceptance, from what it means when you are in denial or are angry.
But, the truth is that usually one person is in the driver’s seat when it comes to the timing of settlement negotiations. If that is not you, and you are forced to the negotiating table, or worse to court, before you are even able to accept the end of your marriage, you will need help from a counsellor or psychologist.
It is unlikely that you and your spouse will arrive at acceptance at the same time. It is also true that time is not the only ingredient in arriving at acceptance. There may be reasons for you to be stuck at an earlier stage of grief, and you may need help to move past it.
If you feel you need support to cope with your separation, and if you want to work in a way that allows for grief in separation, please call me for a counselling referral or advice about collaborative divorce. Collaborative divorce is when two kind and co-operative lawyers team up with a psychologist and financial planner, to look after all your needs, instead of focusing on the law, and ignoring your pain. That is what I do. Every day.