As desirable as fairness seems, it is one of the most subjective concepts there is.
Last week, along with all other parents of school-aged kids across the U.S., I attended back-to-school night.
What a trip. It is my oldest son’s first year in middle school. Sitting at those individual desks took me back in time to my own middle school, and how that time held some of the best, worst and certainly most life-shaping moments I have experienced.
When I sat down in the last room of the evening, I glanced up at the teacher’s podium and saw the following saying taped at eye level for everyone settled into their desk.
“Fair isn’t about everybody getting the same thing… Fair is everybody getting what they need in order to be SUCCESSFUL.”
BOOM! Mic dropped.
Fair has become one of my least favorite words in the English language. As a parent to two boys as well as a divorce mediator and coach, when that F-word goes flying it is simply code for “I am pissed and you had best make it better!” If not said by a child, it is being said by someone acting like a child.
“I just want what’s fair!”
This does seem a reasonable request. We all want what is fair, as we believe that fair means our equal portion, our right, what we deserve. The problem is that as desirable as fairness seems, it is one of the most subjective concepts there is.
Fair can mean “superficially pleasing.” What is pleasing to my eye, however, may not be pleasing to yours.
Fair can mean “free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism.” Shocking as this may be, there is only one of me. If my kids each ask to go to a different restaurant on any given night, I can only choose one. If I pick one out of a hat, I guarantee there is no self-interest, prejudice or favoritism involved in the decision, just as I can guarantee that the kid whose choice wasn’t pulled will insist the result is “unfair.”
And fair can mean “conforming with the established rules.” There are plenty of established rules, know as the Family Law Code, for spousal support (alimony) and child support. Yet when a client says they want a “fair” support agreement, they are not saying they actually want to pay or receive the amount a judge would say they have to. They want to pay the least possible for the shortest amount of time, or receive the most possible for the longest amount of time — 100% of the time.
I could argue that either the highest or lowest number for either spouse in any given divorce could be considered “fair” if we use the definition of “superficially pleasing.”
I could argue that whatever number the Dissomaster (i.e. support calculation software) pops out would be fair if we use the definition of “free from self-interest” yadda-yadda.
I could also argue that whatever number the judge picks would be fair, because the judge would ostensibly be choosing an amount that “conforms with the established rules.” Except that the established rules are so vastly open to interpretation that there is no way to know, without the tremendous waste of time and money known as litigation, what a judge would actually decide, and the greatest likelihood is that the judge will make support orders that seem unfair to both spouses.
It’s enough to make you — and by you I mean me — absolutely nuts trying to reach a solution.
Which leads me back to where my eye landed in that middle school classroom.
The purpose of child and spousal support is exactly what the sign said: to ensure that after a divorce both spouses, and especially their children, can go about their lives successfully. Not so that one will do better than the other. Not so that someone will be rewarded and someone will be punished. Just so that everyone involved can move the fuck on.
I get that not everyone feels ready to move on. Many keep fighting over numbers because what really seems unfair is the end of the marriage. As much as getting married is a two-way street, divorce is not. If one person is done, it’s done. Prolonging the process is only an unfair punishment to yourself, because who has ever found it pleasing to try and hold on to someone who doesn’t want you to hold them anymore?
Trying to convince anyone of this simple truth about fairness while in the midst of a divorce is next to impossible. Now is the time to start reconsidering what fairness means and to whom.
- Talk to your kids about success — what it means to you and what it means to them. When they say something is unfair, revisit that talk. Your kids are smart enough to get it, believe me.
- When you find yourself thinking something that just occurred was unfair, ask yourself if that is really so. Reconsider in the context of what you truly need to be successful.
- If you are considering divorce and or one day find yourself there, give the same method a try. I promise you will give more thought to your future success than a judge will.
When all else fails remember: fair is a four-letter word that begins with the letter F.
Photo Credit: Flickr/6UqLjz