Your Mother Was Right—the “F-word” Isn’t Nice

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fairness in divorce

Growing up, you likely heard others, at some point, say the “F- word”, and it wasn’t’ “fudge.” It was a taboo word and could possibly land you with a bar of soap in your mouth.  In this blog we will discuss a different “F-word”, and it still isn’t “fudge”, but it can still cause all sorts of unpleasant side effects for the unfortunate user.  The guilty word is FAIR, and by extension, FAIRNESS, especially in divorce.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

What’s so bad about fairness?  The concept itself seems benign enough and has the ring of righteousness to it. When we perceive that a situation is fair (usually that means it benefits us in some way), life is good. However, that is precisely the problem. It is the expectation that things should be fair, and when they are not, we can feel like our world is in despair. We feel indignant, out of sorts, and want the situation to be corrected, pronto. At the extreme end, if we feel we have been legally wronged in some way and the justice system has not righted the situation for us, some may take matters into their own hands.  The idea of fairness can literally be a loaded gun.

For those of us women who have been around for a while (say, over 40 years), we know that life is NOT fair, and we must learn to roll with it.  We see examples of this all the time. Starting in childhood, maybe you had a sibling who got more attention than you did.  Maybe they got straight A’s without studying while you sweated every single math test only to get a C on it.  In my case, I had to earn an “A” average my freshman year of high school to earn contact lenses that I desperately wanted, while my younger brother did not have to do anything to get his contacts a few years later.  Meanwhile, he thought it wasn’t fair that our family cat liked me more and would choose to sleep on my bed at night instead of with him.  Of course, I found this arrangement to be delightful. 

Divorce and Fairness—the Unicorn

Now let’s talk specifically about divorce and how the concept of fairness applies.  I have two words for you:  It doesn’t. 

The sooner you can accept this, the faster you can adjust your thinking so that you can move through the divorce process and beyond with less angst and more grace.  It is a tall order indeed.

The first thing you must come to grips with is that the legal system will not deliver justice to you.  In my case, I was a trailing spouse, cheerfully moving to wherever my husband’s career dictated.  That meant that I never became established with one company, and I had to keep starting over in my career.  By the time we divorced after 25 years, he was earning a six-figure salary, and I was not.  His new wife (and the woman he cheated on me with) is now enjoying that lifestyle.  The courts did not care.

If I had any notions that my ex-spouse would be punished for cheating on me, that was quickly squelched.  I live in a no-fault divorce state.  The courts don’t care.  Even if you live in a state where that could have consequences, it still will not address your rage.  He will not be adorned with a scarlet A, nor will the hussie. Here’s another scenario: You have to sell the house where your kids took their first steps, and you have to rent an apartment. Meanwhile he is house hunting for his next home, and he is getting one with a pool.  You know where the kids are going to want to spend their time in the summer. Nothing is fair about this.

Here are some more examples of the “F-word”’s absence concerning women and divorce:

  1. Women bear the heavy lifting of child rearing, even in shared custody cases. And if you took time out of the workforce to raise your kids, you are not recognized by the courts for the lost career opportunities, promotions and raises, and future earning potential in the divorce settlement.
  2. Women, on average, still earn 22% less than men. On top of this fact, women may take lower-earning careers that offer more flexible hours that are more conducive to raising a family. Less availability for work hours make it harder to get promotions, cultivate client relationships, and in general clip a woman’s wings as far as her career and earning power are concerned. 
  3. The court does not have a mechanism to compensate a woman for lost earning power based on her decision to marry and have kids. The court is focused on dividing marital property.
  4. Overall, most men’s quality of life goes up after a divorce, since they continue to earn more and their expenses decrease. Meanwhile, the quality of a woman’s life post-divorce declines, at least financially.

How Do We Navigate This?

Since it does no good to scream and stomp our feet when reality sinks in, we must develop coping skills (you can tell I was a therapist in my earlier career).  Here are some that are helpful:

Shift the Lens from Comparison to Gratitude         

Resist the urge to compare your life with someone else’s situation. Remember, Facebook is called Fakebook for a reason.  Most people only post their happy-looking pictures for the world to see; no one posts the pic of them crying in the corner, mascara running down their face in rivulets.  We all wear a mask in public, to some extent, even if just to get through the day at work after seeing a picture of our ex with his new girlfriend, arms wrapped around each other.  We do not know what is going on behind the scenes. Some people even weaponize Facebook, posting things that they hope you will see and become upset.

Here’s an especially good tip regarding social media:  Stay off of all of your ex’s social media.  Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, etc.  No good will come of it. You don’t want to see him posting pictures of him and his new girlfriend, or of him taking the kids to Disney World.  Also, don’t you be posting pics of your new boyfriend, or making disparaging comments about your ex.  They can be used against you in court.  Lay low until it’s all over.

Understand the Uniqueness of Your Journey

Every person has a unique life path, with their own challenges and victories.  Acknowledging this helps in realizing that fairness is not about equivalence but about the individualistic nature of our experiences and the growth opportunities for you specifically.  Divorce certainly provides us opportunities for change. Your whole world may be turned upside down and it may not be fun.  The more you can embrace your new reality, the sooner you can discover the hidden gems.  Your divorce is uniquely your own experience. 

Turn Envy into Clarity and Action

Let’s say you can’t stop thinking about your best friend’s brand new red BMW with the sunroof, and comparing it to your rusted out minivan with Cheetos hiding under the passenger seat.  How can you handle those feelings that it just isn’t fair that she gets that car?  One thing you can do is to take a look at what it is that you are really envious about.  Could it be that you envy the carefree vibe that goes with her Beemer? Perhaps is not the car at all, but the idea of renting a convertible and driving up the California coast for 2 weeks. It could be that you really do want a new ride, so you are inspired to start a new car fund for your dream car. Talking to your financial advisor may be in order to help make that a reality sooner rather than later. Or maybe you just need a good detail job on the minivan.  Whatever it is, use the feeling to help you identify what is lacking in your life and make a plan to fill it. 

Empower Yourself Financially

Now about the money. If you did get a settlement from your divorce and have money to manage, take into account your unique situation. Look at the many aspects of your life that are specific to you, including your goals, dreams, and intentions, and current funds.  What works for you may not work for others.  The focus is on you and your situation, and not comparing it to anyone else’s situation.  Working with a certified divorce financial advisor (CDFS) can assist you in reaching your financial goals, according to your vision for your future.

For women in their 40’s and up, achieving financial independence is of utmost importance.  Talk to your financial advisor about financial planning, retirement, and investing.  Getting a handle on your finances allows you to pursue financial abundance, while mitigating some of life’s unfair curveballs. Financial abundance allows you to have options in dealing with injustices that come your way, and that feels good. The fact that you have a financial advisor is something to celebrate—circling back around to gratitude.

Dealing with Unfairness

Fairness and unfairness are perceptions.  Fairness is also a relative term; what is deemed fair to one person may seem totally unfair to another.  Regardless of how we feel about our circumstances in any given moment, it is up to the individual to decide what to do about it.  Empowerment lies in recognizing how we can redefine our circumstances. The Chinese symbol for chaos is the same for opportunity.  The choice in perception is up to you.  Some choose to see “unfair” situations in their lives as opportunities to develop resilience, strength, and character. One thing that may be helpful is finding support in tough times.  A support group can alleviate that feeling of going through an unfair situation by yourself. We offer support groups for those dealing with divorce, and you can try out a complimentary session with this link https://www.greatlakesdfs.com/divorce-support-groups

At the end of the day, our attitude plays a huge role in how we experience life and its challenges. We always have the choice to accept challenges with grace and a positive attitude to find the good in our situations, or we can bemoan the fact that there are things in our lives that are less than optimal and begrudge others who seem to have it better than us.  We can address the aspects we can actually do something about, or we can blame the fates for our misery. Divorce is an ending, but also a beginning. Just strike the “F-word” from your vocabulary—nobody wants to hear it. Unless you are using some other “F-words”, like fun, fantastic, forward, future.  The choice is up to you.

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