What exactly does ‘fair’ mean when it comes to divorce?

From the time that we are young children, most of us are concerned with fairness. Kids are quick to point out when they are not being treated fairly or equally compared to a sibling or friend. In many cases, this need to call out unfairness doesn’t go away as we get older (but many of us might be less likely to complain if an unfair situation benefits us).

Unfortunately, what our parents often said was and is true: Life isn’t fair. Especially when it comes to something complex like divorce, each spouse may have a very different view of what a fair divorce settlement should look like. And even if they agree, complete fairness isn’t always possible.

Like the majority of states, Missouri uses the model of equitable distribution when dividing property during divorce. This means that courts attempt to divide assets equitably. But it should be noted that “equitable” doesn’t always mean 50-50.

It is often difficult to put a price on each spouse’s contribution to the marriage as well the sacrifices each has made. For instance, a husband might earn $100,000 per year while his wife earns significantly less (or is not employed at all). But perhaps they made a decision early in the marriage that she would be a stay-at-home parent or work only part time.

She may not be contributing the same income or any income, but her contribution to the family was nonetheless very valuable. And by choosing to leave the workforce, she may be giving up career advancement that could make it harder to find a good-paying job later on. For these reasons, it might make sense for the court to award spousal support to the wife in the event of divorce (or whichever spouse was the stay-at-home parent).

This is just one of many examples of how fair/equitable asset division is not always easy to quantify – nor does it mean the same thing as a 50-50 split. If you are going through a divorce, it’s important to keep this in mind. Discussing your goals and your expectations with your attorney at the beginning of the process can make it significantly easier to negotiate a fair and reasonable settlement.

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