By: Alan Freed
The people who enter my office come from many different walks of life and many different cultural and religious backgrounds, bringing with them widely diverging views on everything from how to spend money to how to educate their children to how to treat those around them. But they all share one core creed: they only want what is fair.
Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, when asked to define obscenity, used these now-famous words: “I know it when I see it.” Trying to define “fairness” results in the same kind of imprecision. Most of my clients who express a desire for fairness have a pretty clear idea of what that concept means—perhaps it’s equal time with the children or half of the marital assets or payment of attorneys’ fees by their spouse or enough support to allow them to stay home with the children. The problem is that their spouse rarely shares the same notion of fairness. To their spouse, fairness may mean that the children spend more time with Mom than with Dad or that the husband should be rewarded for bringing home the bulk of the income by receiving the bulk of the assets.
To resolve a divorce case while at the same time preserving the assets and maintaining healthy co-parent relationships, both the husband and the wife need to begin by understanding that there is no point of “absolute fairness.” No two judges view the same case exactly the same way, so judges are given broad discretion in making their divorce-related orders. No lawyer can state with certainty how a case will be decided or what a final settlement will look like.
A good lawyer and, by extension, a client who pays attention to the advice that lawyer dispenses, will recognize that both the husband and the wife have interests they are trying to protect. Negotiation of a mutually acceptable outcome begins by acknowledging that the person on the other side of the table may have a significantly different perspective on the facts and, for that matter, on the history of the marriage. The most satisfying outcomes for everyone are achieved through understanding the other person’s perspective and taking that into account in any settlement options.
Which brings us back to fairness. If both sides see that their interests are addressed in the settlement, they are likely to perceive that settlement as fair. They’ll know it when they see it.
Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal’s family law attorneys can help you understand the range of possible outcomes in your divorce case in the hopes of negotiating a satisfying and “fair” outcome.