Life’s not fair.
You probably first heard those words back in elementary school when a classmate’s misdeeds resulted in mass discipline or some slight against you went unpunished. If you’re anything like me, those words only served to salt the wound, as the brain kicked up reasons that this was different. That this time, the scales of justice must find balance.
As we grow, we read and watch stories that have an inherent fairness to them, the good guy usually gets the girl and the bad guy has to face the consequences of his actions. There is certainly suffering, but agony is tempered with some sort of retribution. We find comfort in that cause and effect. It seems right, somehow, that if you do good, you get good and if you propagate bad, it boomerangs as well.
As we grow, we also get better at weaving stories, tales told with ourselves as the good guy at the center. We use our inherent sense of fairness and the stories we learn from books and movies to craft these narratives. We strive to find greater purpose and balance, even if we have to build it from scratch. We have learned that the bad guy will be punished before the end. And so we seek that justice for the wrongs in our own lives before we are ready to turn the page on that chapter.
But those are just stories, narratives with black and white, good and bad. We’re not that simple and life is not that fair.
And sometimes fair doesn’t exist at all.
I think one of the reasons that divorce is so devastating is that it destroys our narrative of ourselves. We, the good guy in the story of course, get the girl. But then at some point, the girl wasn’t as expected and, in some cases, turns out to be the bad guy, pulling off the mask like a character in Scooby Doo. Our brains stutter to correct this wrong; they want justice for the perceived misdeeds, both to reestablish fair and the secure one’s own position in the good guy role.
So, we turn to the divorce courts with much the same intent as a child tattling on a classmate that threw a surreptitious blow.
But the divorce courts aren’t set up to punish individual misdeeds. They punish the entire class.
I, like many others, approached court looking for justice. I carefully spelled out his wrongdoings. I gathered evidence that secured my role as the good guy and painted him as the bad. I was hurt and anger and confused by his choices. They were painful. And I wanted him punished.
And the system was only too happy to play along.
Requests for information traveled back and forth through emails. Thick stacks of legal papers filled my mailbox, seemingly alternating with thinner, but more pointed envelopes containing bills for legal fees. Every step of the process felt like wading through chest-deep mud. The only lifeline keeping me from sinking was the vision of the court ordered consequences.
The system also used fear as a trap. In my case, it was fear for my financial future. I had understood that I needed this process and documentation to try to avoid some of his financial infidelities. In many other cases, the fear is tied to the children, the preferred pawn of the courts. The system uses children like dog racing uses a fake rabbit lure to entice the dogs to run. When you’re chasing something, you’re too focused to see the bigger picture.
We come to family court with our emotions raw, sick and sad with the loss of the marriage and the future we evisioned.
We come to family court angry that we have been wronged and wanting to lash out.
We come to family court confused at where we are, convinced that our life story has been misread.
We come to family court scared, clinging on to anything after experiencing the pain of losing everything.
We come to family court desperate, looking for something, anything, to make it okay.
We want it to be fair.
But that’s not what the courts are about.
My new husband asked me if I wish I had done my divorce differently. I thought back to the months filled with unanswered depositions, false and outlandish claims and sick days taken to talk to lawyers. I thought back to the three foot stack of files that had been paid for with over half my annual salary. I thought back to the day in court where, instead of taking the stand and being able to tell my side of the story, I sat alone in a hallway awaiting the decisions of the attorneys and the judge. I thought back to the decree, my relief when I saw justice in black and white and my despair when soon after, I learned that it wasn’t really enforceable.
My eventual response was that I didn’t know if I could have done it any differently. At least not at the time.
The thing about divorce court is that you only know how the game is played after the cards have been put away.
My now-husband probed further, asking what I got out of the divorce. That answer was easier. I got a divorce. The rest – the hours on the phone, the piles of paper, the carefully worded questions and allegations – were just noise.
I went into the divorce process looking for the system to establish fairness. I had convinced myself that I needed that judgement in order to heal and move on. I gave the courts the power to determine if I was going to be okay.
But the courts punish everybody involved.
My $30,000 divorce decree was ultimately only good for changing my name.
It was up to me to change my life.
I found a way to turn the pain and anger into something positive, using my story and my writing to help others through the desolate wastelands of the end of a marriage. I found justice, not by punishing his misdeeds, but by taking ownership of my own life and striving to do better. I worked to find acceptance and peace despite the perceived lack of consequences.
So I learned to reframe fair.
Divorce is not fair.
Looking for fairness within the system is a snipe hunt, with frustration and disappointment the only outcomes.
But justice can come from within.
You can balance the scales in your own life so that you can find peace.
You can choose to let go of what is causing you suffering.
You can find acceptance rather than struggle.
And no lawyers are needed.
Divorce Corp, a movie about the $50 billion a year divorce industry, is opening in select cities this weekend. The goal of the filmmakers is to expose and then reform the divorce process so that individuals and families can make the best decisions possible through a difficult time. Check here to see when it will be showing near you.
And then let your voice be heard.
15 thoughts on “Reframing Fair”
Really good essay on taking ownership of our feelings. Yeah, it was tougher to look at myself than at was was done to me, but life is so much better since I did so. Thanks.
An excellent piece that speaks to the core. I am also in process of trying to secure fairness. I have always viewed myself as a fair, honest and just person. So….I had expected the same. I, too, am emptying my savings to have the items outlined in the divorce agreement given to me, to my son. The father of my child lives in Brazil–that sould say enough about trying to have the problem resolved. I am paying American and Brazilian lawyers to end this fairly.
You are so right– I have been slowly redefining my perspective of fairness and counting the “wins”– I have my son, he let me leave the country with my son and I have my life, my freedom and my future.
I have been writing– something that I found through this process– my story is almost finished–I thought I had to wait for the “fairness” to be gained to finish my book. But I realized, I am the one to finish the story. I am editing and hope to release it shortly.
So many people lose in the end while they are waiting to “win.” Thank you for expressing what so many of us feel, with or without divorce.
Divorce isn’t fair. Its the breaking of a covenant so many people make so easily. More often than not people do not think about the shortfalls of their spouse. They are often looking for someone to complete them as the movie narrative goes.
One of the biggest problems with the divorce is our laxidasical approach towards marriage. We look for what we can get out of the marriage, and we go into it with selfish intentions.
I know the pain of divorce all to well. When my ex-wife kidnapped my children and took across the country, all I could do was file for divorce. I didn’t file for the divorce for some misguided sense of justice, I wanted to bring my children home and out of a potentially dangerous situation.
Truth be told neither of us was happy in our marriage. We married to try and fix the problems in our relationship. We wanted to be what we were supposed to be for our two children. However, we both had unrealistic expectations of how the other person should act and what they should do.
Marriage isn’t about becoming complete with the other person, its about two fallen broken people with a ton of lifes baggage coming together and saying “I will walk through the rest of my life with you, no matter the storm.” It’s about having a partnership that at the end of the day no matter what is wrong you have each others back. It’s not an easy process, and it is very rarely emulated in marriages today.
Well written piece and so true.
Depending on the type or mental health of the person you are dealing with, the legal process can be ongoing and devastating and fairness never comes into it.
Those of us dealing with a high conflict personalities (or personality disordered exes) through the divorce and family courts will never ever see fair. And we will never ever have the truth known because they person we are pitted against more often than not conducts a ‘smear campaign’ against us.
I have had to learn to let all that go and focus on what is the right thing for my children, not winning, not getting justice (because I never will) and not caring what people think of me who don’t know the full story.
It is a hard lesson to learn and I haven’t reached the point of peace yet, but at least I know I am on that journey and that is my end destination.
I agree with both this comment and the post totally. Especially the part about just doing what’s best for the kids and the necessity of lawyering up to deal with the problem of a personality-disordered, smear-campaigning spouse. “Divorce is not fair… but justice can come from within.” So very well said. Fantastic blog, Lisa, and I’m in awe of your inspiring journey.
Thank you 😊
Nothing about divorce fair. I did not let the courts decide my fate. I am a far happier and well adjusted person as a result. It was not an easy road (there are no easy divorces!) but I’m standing on the other side of the valley, proud of who I have become.
Thank you for your blog!
I insisted on taking my ex h to Court
He’d left me and had an emotional affair
I was half mad with anger and grief.
He wanted no lawyer and mediation but offered one of his friends
I objected. And so he offered a professional Mediator.
I still refused
So we went to court. He put a no contact order on me.
My lawyer got me the house..Some of his pension and some maintenance
I am 3 years on now
There isn’t a day I don’t burn with guilt and shame for what I did.
I regret it bitterly
I will do for the rest of my life
I hate myself
I have thought of killing myself many times as I can’t forgive myself
But he didn’t deserve this
I have lost friends..his family…my good opinion of myself and worst of all..hurt the person I loved and still love..so much.
The lawyers got 30k from each of us.
I think I should have paid in pieces of silver.
I hate what I did.
I think one of the reasons we can fight so hard without regard for the consequences during divorce is that it gives us purpose. Direction. Distraction. It’s a goal that feels doable and the fear of starting over tells us that it’s a needed battle.
I am so sorry to hear of the fallout from your divorce. Is there something that you can do at this point that would help to alleviate some of the guilt?