This post is from Kevin Fuller, a partner with Dallas-based law firm Koons, Fuller, Vanden Eykel and Robertson, and past president of the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas.
Many times when you ask a client going through a divorce what he or she wants, he or she will say something like, “I just want what’s fair.” Wanting to “be fair” sounds great at first, but just wanting “what’s fair” is not too helpful in trying to help people figure out what their core interests and concerns are, and start the work of finding an agreement that both parties can find to be acceptable. What’s fair depends on your perspective. Fair looks different to the chicken and the fox, the rich and the poor, Republicans and Democrats, the beautiful and the not-so-beautiful, parents and children and husbands and wives (and their lawyers).
In a dispute about what to eat, the chicken and the fox are going to have very different ideas about a fair answer to the question, “What’s for dinner?” When we work with clients in the collaborative process, we try to ask questions to get people to think about and articulate what “fair” looks like. When somebody says, “I want what’s fair,” we’ll often ask follow up questions like, “Tell me some things that would be present in a solution that would look fair to you.”
In trying to figure out what “fair” might look like for you in your collaborative case, think about trying to answer the following questions:
1. What are the five most important outcomes you would like to see from this divorce?
2. Why is each one of these outcomes important to you?
3. What are your concerns if you are not able to achieve each of these outcomes?
Most of the time going through this process will give you, your lawyer and your spouse and their lawyer a more precise definition of what your idea of “fair” looks like. Chances are pretty good that “fair” will not look the same to both spouses, but with some details laid out on the negotiating table, people can negotiate and trade to try to achieve their most important overreaching goals to the best extent possible.