The Divorce Quandry: Fact vs. Value based information

Understanding the Differences between Fact-Based and Value-Based Information

By Felicia Soleil, Attorney at Law/Mediator

When couples begin negotiating the terms of their divorce, they often want to immediately jump to dividing the money and creating a residential schedule for their children, without first fully gathering all the necessary information. Whether uncomfortable with conflict, painful emotions, or just eager to start anew, certain parties merely want to “rip off the Band-Aid” and get it over with. This approach may lead to “good enough” outcomes, but gathering information, whether fact-based or value-based, will more readily result in best outcomes.
Reaching agreement on the relevant information is key and distinguishing between “fact-based” information and “value-based” information is imperative. Too often, my mediation clients will argue over a position without realizing the foundation of their disagreement is actually a difference of opinion based on their personal values as opposed to provable facts.

Let’s use determining the equity in the family home as an example. One client believes the home is worth $400,000 because there is deferred maintenance, they never liked the home, and the kitchen is outdated. The other client believes the home is worth $500,000 because a neighbor’s home recently sold for that amount, the client tended the garden with love and care, and they raised their children there.  Can you spot the “value-based” opinions that might incorrectly influence the estimate of market value?
Determining a home’s worth for purposes of assigning the equity in a home can be ascertained by obtaining a market analysis from a realtor, an appraisal from a certified residential appraiser, or from a good faith offer from a potential buyer. These estimates are primarily based on comparable sales and a local standard of price per square foot. In other words, facts.

Unfortunately, a party’s personal feelings about the influence of their gardening capabilities or decorating, or assigning sentimental attachment because it was a good home for raising a family, cannot be captured in an asset spread sheet. However, that is not to say that these “value-based” opinions should not be acknowledged within the divorce process. Identifying facts vs values can be immensely helpful in negotiating who can afford to retain the house, whether it should be sold during a divorce, or whether someone’s value system overrides logic and they are willing to sacrifice to keep the home “at all costs.”

Similarly, parenting plans should be negotiated with careful consideration of “facts” vs “values.” For example, couples often say they want a “50/50” residential schedule, with the assumption their only option is to exchange the children every Friday after school or work. However, if we explore the “facts”, including work schedules, school and extracurricular activity schedules, transportation, third party child care, and the special needs of any child, we may find exchanging the children on a different day of the week or a 5/5/2/2 or 2/2/3 schedule would work better than a strict weekly rotation.

If we only look at “values,” such as a parent feeling like they “should have equal time” (often interpreted as being an “equal parent” with respect to influence, decision-making, and experiences), we often overlook creative ways to honor those values that might be easier on the children from a logistics perspective by employing a different schedule other than a weekly Friday exchange.

The same philosophy applies to your overall divorce process. Fact-based considerations can include cost, choice of professionals, and timing. Value-based considerations might include choosing a divorce process that encourages dignity, respect, transparency, and good faith. Parties can reach agreement on facts with data. You can’t argue with a financial account statement. However, we also need to acknowledge the differences in what parties most value because personal values often create the “why” when seeking to understand the importance of one’s position. What matters most to you?

If you’ve reached a decision about separation or divorce, Felicia Soleil can help.  Through her practice, Family Law Resolutions, Felicia will help you achieve a resolution that fosters both a compassionate ending to your union and a healthy new beginning for you and your family so you can focus on moving on, rather than simply moving out.  She can be reached at 253-853-6940. All consultations are strictly confidential.

Published on March 29, 2019