Note: This blog is part of an ongoing non-commercial research project - and has been posted with the full approval of the Wikivorce management team.
As part of my ongoing research into Wikivorce in 2007 (see http://www.wikivorce.com/divorce/Divorce-Advice/Wikivorce-General-Announcements/319263-Research-on-Wikivorce-released.html), I’ve been looking at how people think about fairness, when they are married, and then when they are divorcing. I’m still working on this, but I thought I would see what current members have to say about it. So please comment – I’ll be very interested to hear what you have to say.
Most of the previous research about fairness within marriage focuses on who does housework and childcare. One consistent finding is that wives do on average about two-thirds of the housework and childcare, even when they are employed full-time – this is generally confirmed by both partners, so not something that wives are imagining on their own. However, they also usually say that they think this division is fair. There seem to be a number of reasons for this:
1. Most marriages run on fairly traditional lines, with wives doing what is traditionally ‘women’s work’ – daily tasks such as cooking and cleaning – while husbands tend to do bigger, but more occasional tasks. This makes it harder to measure how much each is putting in on a daily basis.
2. Most couples have ways of rationalising the division of labour to make it feel fair, even if objectively it isn’t. For example, they will argue that the man’s work is more stressful, or that the woman cares more about how clean and tidy the house is, or that he can’t match up to her exacting standards. This is partly because of the way we see marriage as a co-operative arrangement for mutual benefit – rocking the boat by noticing that the division of labour is objectively unfair will endanger the marriage, and most people don’t want to take that risk.
3. Many wives see the work they do to keep the home going as a form of caring, and therefore as an expression of love for their husbands and children. This is particularly the case regarding children, where many women prefer to do most of the childcare anyway.
4. Related to this is the fact that many wives aren’t really bothered about how much their husbands do overall, but what they really want is for them to do some of the traditionally ‘women’s tasks’. This makes them feel cared for, so they don’t feel aggrieved about doing more altogether.
5. Many husbands don’t see childcare as work, but as part of leisure time, so don’t really count the extra time that their wives are spending looking after the children when they are thinking about what is fair. Some (but not so many) wives feel this too.
6. Some higher earners feel that if they earn more this ‘buys them out’ of housework and childcare – though their spouses don’t always agree.
What interests me is how these perceptions are affected by divorce. I’m particularly concerned to work out how these ideas about fairness in marriage are carried over (or not) into the divorce process.
It’s clear that most people like to think of themselves as fair, both when they are married and afterwards. This isn’t surprising. However, how they think about fairness both reflects how society understands marriage and how people feel their own marriage operated.
Generally in the West we have a companionate view of marriage. We want our spouse to be our best friend, partner, etc. Most married relationships are underpinned by the idea that the marriage is a joint project in which both spouses are contributing whatever they can to benefit the family as a whole. This is reflected in English and Welsh divorce law by the idea that all property is considered joint, ‘marital assets’. Emotionally, what people experience when divorce happens is the loss of that partnership. How does that affect their sense of fairness, both about their marriage and about what is happening in their divorce, particularly in ancillary relief?
An early casualty of the loss of this sense of the joint project with one’s former partner is that wives stop thinking that their share of housework was fair. Of course it’s not clear whether this happened before or after the break-up – some marriages will end because the wife thinks she’s been exploited once too often, but in other cases it’s only once the split has happened that people stop rationalising their respective contributions as being fair. Once this has happened, people sometimes feel that their extra contribution during the marriage entitles them to more now it is over. On the other hand, some main earners argue that equal distribution of assets would be fair if their spouse had done lots of housework and childcare, but they didn’t. Consequently, they feel, their exes are benefiting unfairly from their hard work.
Another thing that frequently happens is that the person who has been the main earner, or who has brought a significant amount of money into the marriage, stops seeing this money as ‘ours’ and starts to think of it as ‘mine’. For these people, ‘fairness’ means that they should get assets out of the marriage in proportion to what they feel they put in. Of course not all contributions to a marriage are of the monetary kind, particularly if one spouse has had a really successful career while the other has looked after the children, but people don’t always see it this way. This can make it hard for them to accept how the law works. Related to this are cases where one partner has supported the other through university or professional training, only to find themselves left soon afterwards. These people can feel that they made an investment in their partner as part of a couple so if they are no longer a couple they want this investment back.
Another way in which people’s conceptions of fairness can be complicated relates to whom the fairness is between. Although officially ancillary relief takes place between the former husband and wife, what happens in practice might really be better seen as a matter of balancing the needs (and therefore sharing fairly between) the resident and non-resident parent. This can have outcomes which will look more or less fair, depending on whose perspective you take. So, for example, if one ex-spouse ends up in a three bedroom house with two children, while the other is in a one-bedroom flat, one way of looking at this is that there is fairness between the four of them (they have one bedroom each). Alternatively, you could say that one former spouse has three bedrooms, the other only one, which seems unfair. So how fairness is understood here depends on who is being taken into account in the calculation.
All these ways of thinking about fairness are related to the same original view of marriage – that it is (or was) a companionate partnership in which each person has contributed as much as they can and so should have equal benefits, whatever ‘equal’ is understood to mean. Some people, however, don’t seem to think about marriage this way. Instead, they think of it as a strict contract, and so feel that there should be a penalty for breaking it. This perspective is reflected in the recent discussions on the forum in this thread: http://www.wikivorce.com/divorce/Divorce-Advice/General-Divorce/377792-Changing-the-law.html . This is a fairly unusual position, mainly held by people whose spouses have left them for someone else. What I’m not sure, though, is whether people felt this way when they were married, or whether it’s something that only comes into the picture once the marriage is over.
Does anyone (assuming you’ve got this far) have any thoughts about any of this? As always, I would be really grateful for any comments.
We cannot help who we fall in love with and yes many marriage vows have the words ''with all my worldly goods I thee endow''.
So what happened to the dowery. The conditional gift from the female side of the family to ensure she was looked after. In more modern times the cost of paying for the wedding.
If it still existed then if the husband left the wife it could be claimed back. But what if the wife left the husband ? .
Unfortunately in todays money grabbing world there are to many who treat marriage as temporary. I know from documentation discovered that my warped ex did, As I have posted before she only wanted to be married for 10 years (from documentation discovered) so exactly where would that have left my daughter who was 8 at the 10 year mark.
Where does this leave me who could have claimed the 'mother'' roll in our marriage. I worked hours that fitted in with school hours. My x worked every Saturday. I even opened my own childrens day nursery to look after my daughter.
Then she waited until my daughter went to university before pulling the plug.
Should I have claimed that I was the ''mother'' in the relationship and my career suffered as a result of my time spent.
Im not complaining as my career has done very nicely twisting and turning and juggling my time. At no point did I consider my time wasted on my daughter or my career stunted as a result of my care. I just accepted it as part and parcel of life.
Unfortunately in some respects I have suffered. My pension is now lower as a result of not taking promotion etc. Thats just the way it goes and I don't cry about it.
Should I also claim that I did all house repairs, gardening. car repairs, building extensions on house etc on of of being a 'mother'. I would be laughed at !!!
Being 8 years down the line and standing upright I now blame myself for chosing someone who had her own career above the needs of the family. It was rather galling to watch her waft into the area of green grass demanding half when events showed that her efforts were being place in the ''self interest'' tray.
Oh yes she thought that if her business and business building were out of the pot if they were registered in her name but my assets registered in my name were all in the pot. That showed what was going on in her mind for many years.
What is really sad is not the money aspect per se. Families should prosper leaving the next generation better off. Of course we have to consider inheritance tax which is why it was my assets being transferred to my daughter whilst my x rigidly hung onto hers and used them for her own benefit. Then wasting it.
Karma takes its course of course. Funds sifted to her family by an unfair business contract (long and complicated story) which we would have got as inheritance have now had to be shared between her brothers and sister. (I hope they enjoy my efforts !!!)
But taking my life now. I am better off than I was 8 years ago. My daughter has assets greater than my x !!. Our lives are back on track and much more fun and relaxed. My daughter has had the first grandchild bringing a purpose back to both my life and hers. My x wants to be part of it but struggles to find acceptance because of the damage to the family. What we sow we shall reap. And I don't have to worry any more where my x is or what she is up to. No more sifting a lifetimes work to her family or spending it on lovers.
Maybe its a selfish attitude but I can spend my lifetimes efforts on what I want to ie my daughter and grandchild rather than share it with a disfunctional family.
As I grow older I often regret time wasted creating what we did. My time is worth more than the money. Thats why I often say to people who owe me money ''You dont owe me the money...you owe me time''. Nowadays I trade my time in a barter system. You scratch my back and I will scratch yours. But if I scratch their back and they dont even thank me then they are out of the equation.
Polar,you know I agree with a lot of your words,they have given me clarity on many things,although on the concept of fairness I have my take.
Yes it is hard that both men and women have been reduced to ruin financially by spouses who brought nothing to the pot,and I do sympathise with them,but we cannot help who we fall in love with.
If life was all about money,we would be living in a very sad place,life should be about sharing what we have,be it that knowledge or material things.If we never shared with others the world would come to a standstill,so sometimes we have to look at the bigger picture,youself and countless others got stung,but many have not.
Money is not and should never be the be all and end all of everything >:( >:(
There is a lot of unfairness.
Take the valentines card received by me 2 months before she left.
It read. ''You are my rock. I would never have made it without you''
It said everything. I bought a house into the marriage plus savings, a car, furniture etc. She bought debts. Yet somehow the law says she was entitled to half of everything I created prior to marriage.
I reverse the situation gender wise and take my daughters position. She stayed on at school for an extra 2 years. She took her first degree for three years. She took another degree which took a year. So for 6 years she did without income to invest in herself. (living off the bank of mum and dad !!) Of course she is going to earn more. For 6 years she lived on the breadline and ended up with student loans to pay off.
Now take her friend who left school at 16. Worked at some simple job on basically minimum wage and went partying.
We got a calculator out and worked out the break even income for both girls. The age we arrived at was 30.
So while my daughter deprived herself of the bright lights and fancy clothes to better herself it does not show in a financial light until she is 30. Now this does not take into consideration matters like not being able to get on the housing ladder at 18 etc.
So would it be fair if she married someone who left school at 16 who then demanded some of her income because she earned more. Surely if this was correct she should be able to offset this against the years of not being able to earn whilst he earned .
We all know that is not going to happen but funnily enough my daughter married a guy who earns substantially less than her.
She is also vunerable regarding gifts I gave her and inheritances should I die before a theoretical divorce.
Nobody I know who has been divorced has remarried. In fact very few cohabit. Two houses between you is becoming the norm to avoid the loss of hard earned money by gold diggers of both sexes.
Eventually society will wake up to the fact that some better formula must be applied to assets brought into the marriage . Assets should also include loss of earnings to get qualifications. Sharing whatever was achieved during a marriage is justified but not earnings / assets accumulated prior to meeting or income derived from inheritances.
It brings to light the question of early American settlers where the young girl married an older man for his assets and stability. Result ? A lot of rich widows !!
fairness does not come into divorce, it is a misandrist practice. There is no concept of what any one puts into the marriage, a spouse who works hard (either at home or work) gets the same as a lazy person who does nothing or has cleaners etc. to do the work. This is especially true when the marriage is not long. Why should someone who has earned money and bought a house and pensions etc. lose 50-60% of that simply because they were married for 5 or 6 years. Now because men are realising it and cohabiting women want to change the law. By all means ensure that the spouse is not pushed into poverty but have some conception of the monies they brought in. Any increase in assets that arose since the marriage should be divided equally and there should be say 1.5-2.5% earned each year of the assets brought to the marriage by the other partner.
It's a sad affair all the talks about fairness eventually boils down to money.
The trouble is, no one thinks about divorce when they get married. The marriage certificate doesn't have 50 clauses to make things black and white when 2 people sign up for the marriage "contract".
It would save a lot of grieves if the marriage is like a commercial contract. Each party knows exactly financially what they get after 1 year, 5 years, 10 years, etc. of marriage.
When the love and trust have gone, in most cases, either side will just try get as much money as they can.
It's additional upsetting when one party uses the children as a "weapon" to gain a better financial outcome or to hurt the other party emotionally.
Once bitten; twice shy.
Personally, I will never get married again unless the other side has similar financial means.
My take on this subject (which I think echoes some of what has already been said), is that fairness is connected with empathy, i.e. someone fully appreciating the other persons perspective.
I now see that my ex fundamentally lacked empathy with other people. After my marriage I clearly saw that I had done so many things that I had run myself ragged - I was tired out. When it came to house work, I did most of the cooking, had to sort out all the house maintenance, had to do the gardening, 'man' stuff like getting the car sorted out and taking the bins out... and when it came to other stuff I was then informed that it was important to make sure that tasks were split equally. It was only on a very rare occasion did I hear my ex once say to me, 'perhaps I should be doing stuff...'. The fact remains that she failed to see what I did and what I contributed. I'm not bitter about it, since I enjoyed (at the time) doing what I did, but there was a part of me that resented the unfairness of the day to day stuff.
Another perspective is the emotional toll that everthing took on me. Was it fair that I was, to all intents and purposes, made homeless? No. Was it fair that I was physically theatened? No. Was it fair that some of my values and beliefs were belittled and denegrated? Certainly not. But, what I can do now is look back and understand what was going on: any scraps of empathy that my ex had ever had for me had totally disappeared due to a consiracy that she had cooked up with her future husband. I'll never forget being treated this bad. All this was fundamentally unfair.
The third aspect of fairness relates to my financial settlement. Although I have griped and groaned about it, in my case, I feel that (pretty much) it was fair. There are some small things I could whinge about, but I won't, since they are all trivial. A big point in my favour is that I don't have any kids. Through this site I've seen hard working men end up in difficult financial situations, having to go from a pleasant home which they helped to create, to a tiny one bedroom flat in a miserable part of town. I understand the arguments that one party would be working whilst the other party wouldn't, but after reading these nightmare stories, I've come to the conclusion that things can end up being far from 'fair'. Having gone through divorce, and having read stories about what happens, I no longer have faith in the legal dimension which accompanies marriage.
Given that it's already said that fairness is subjective, if I ever become involved in a relationship, whereever possible, I will choose my own contractual arrangments - and one arrangment that I'm not going to choose is marriage. The simple reason is that by getting married, you're giving up a lot of your rights, and the state can make decisions which you may fundamentally consider to be unfair.
Mathsisfun, yep, I got the same from my STBX. The old "I am entitled to this or that!".
I wasnt arguing that point at all, She is entitled to go after my pension, and my endowment, and whatever else she feels like going after. Nice and legal. Yet morally, I would say no. She had to option to start a pension when she started her job three years ago. She chose not to, because "she couldnt afford it".
Also when we got together she made it quite clear she would not touch my pension or endowment if we split. Yet as soon as she walked.... Guess what?
If there had been a CETV payment, I doubt I would be able to buy a house. I dont even think I could afford to rent, as rent tends to be higher then the cost of buying. I would in effect become homeless.
I have tried to be fair, after all my son needs a roof over his head. But so do I so I can have my son and maintain contact with him. I would say that would be a fair assessment of the situation. All I ever asked for was enough to buy a new house. A modest property. She wants to be able to buy a large property, like the one we had, the one I provided.
Again it comes down to perception. From her point of view, no doubt influenced by the guy she ran off with, she is being fair. I think I am being fair in what I am asking for.
Fair. Is there actually such a thing. Bill Gates in a recent speech said that in this politically correct world we need to tell our children that life isn't fair and they have to accept that.
Through out my partner divorce his ex repeatedly complained that the financial agreement was unfair and that she should get a larger share. She refused to consider the financial position my partner was in prior to the marriage and despite the marriage breakup was due to her decision to have an affair continually stated she was entitled.
I agree with lost boy to a degree. As we all know in divorce there is often a process of grieving and loss for one of the parties or both to a greater or lesser degree. As much as I'd like to say I had my win-win hat on, frankly at the time, emotions made it terribly difficult to think and behave rationally at all times.
Part of the grieving was working through the burning sense of injustice and anger about the way I was treated. It was about for me at least how I felt in the marriage and working through those emotions. It didn't feel like bitching, it felt like I was trying to catch up with his decision and work through paralysing feelings of loss and grief. I didn't do that with my ex, that would've been a recipe for disaster. I worked through the feelings of unfairness and anger that resulted from marital breakdown with a counsellor. I worked my ass off to keep my emotions and the settlement negotiations separate at least when dealing with my ex.
I couldn't ignore my feelings, I had to work through it all and learn the lessons I wanted to take from my marriage. It was just making sure I treated my ex like a business colleague focused on outstanding matters we needed to discuss and that was it. Yes I felt much was unfair, but I separated those feelings from the contact I had with the ex to resolve matters. It was how I survived.
I made sense of all of it in the end. I accept he has a very different perspective and that's ok with me. I no longer feel any sense of unfairness. I've learned what I need to from the whole experience and I feel I had a lucky escape frankly although it took me some time to get to that point. As for the settlement, I treated that like I would a business deal. Emotions had to be kept separate as despite my perceptions of unfairness, I wanted to retain a sense of dignity and self respect. It wasn't win win in my case, it was self preservation, that was my priority. I think it was his too.
Fair is a difficult concept, and I think to truely say if something is fair you need to know and have an understanding of the other person's position. Its very wasy to see things simply from your own position, there may be aspects of your respective positions that you feel inequitable but they have to be weighed against other aspects which are unfair in the other direction.
Fair in financial settlement requires that the reason you ended up there are set aside, and in the hightened emotions of divorce the temptation to 'take the other side to the cleaners' is an easy one to fall into, unfortunatly often fueled by less than scrupulous solicitors. Once a long time ago I did training by Stephen Covey called Seven Habits of successful people, one of the key messages was 'Think win-win' , it helps to take the conflict out of the situation and both sides to work towards a fair and equitable solution.
The thing about divorce is that there is little point bitching about the inequalities that arose during the marriage, that is something of the past and its all about what is fair in it disolution....Once signed off then its time to stop thinking about the exact division and take what you come away with and leave any thought about arguments regarding fairness behind, start from where you are and move forward accepting it was fair. If you don't then you are on the road to becoming forever bitter and twisted.