Attorney Rory Coetzee
Fairness in family law disputes
Rarely does anyone walk into a divorce, child custody, domestic violence or child support hearing actively hoping that the judge will uphold an unfair result. In matters of family law, participants generally hope that issues are resolved fairly. However, the concept of what is fair in the eyes of one individual may not be the same as what is fair in the eyes of another. Scientific studies indicate that individuals are ordinarily affected by a phenomenon called the self-interest bias. This bias greatly informs what we perceive to be fair in matters of family law and what we do not.
Simply explained, the self-interest bias informs our perceptions of what contributions we have made to our children's parenting, our marriages and our relationships generally. It therefore informs what we believe we deserve in the ultimate outcome of family law disputes. Generally, the self-interest bias causes each person to overestimate their personal contributions and underestimate those of the opposing party.
When the self-interest bias is strong, it can both cause individuals to seek outcomes that they may not completely deserve and to feel that the process has failed them when an outcome does not match their expectations.
Of course, unfair outcomes are handed down in family law cases, just as they are in criminal cases and personal injury cases. The system is not perfect and as a result, deserving people sometimes are handed grossly unfair outcomes in family law matters. But for the most part, the system seeks fair outcomes within the bounds set by statutory law. If your concept of fairness in your dispute is strongly informed by the self-interest bias, it may benefit you to step back and look at your situation more objectively in order to gain the most from the process and conclude it without disappointment tied to unrealistic expectations.
Source: Huffington Post, "When the Law Is Involved, Do Notions Of Fairness Matter?" Mark Baer, July 29, 2013