With more and more couples recognizing the need for financial assistance specifically related to their divorce, it is important to understand what to expect from the various financial professionals available. Listed below are the most common financial professions considered by divorcing couples.
- CPA - Certified Public Accountant: For many divorcing couples it is logical and easy decision to simply consult with their existing CPA or tax professional. In most cases he/she already has intimate knowledge about the household finances and the decision to consult this professional for divorce work seems appropriate. There are two issues to consider with this decision.
First, while your CPA has in-depth knowledge of taxes and tax-related issues, he/she is not qualified to address the many ancillary issues specific to divorce planning. When it comes to cash-flow budgeting, net-worth forecasting, insurance, social security, retirement accounts, pension plans, alimony and child support issues, a CPA is not the qualified individual you should seek. Second, if you and your spouse have been using your CPA jointly while married, a conflict may arise should he/she advise you on how best to divide your marital enterprise (he/she may be partial to the client most likely to continue working with him). It would be best to seek a neutral professional to assist you.
- CFP professional or financial advisor: For those considering placing a call to their Certified Financial Planner™, the same issues that apply to the CPA example are relevant here as well. A CFP® professional has a wide-range of financial knowledge pertaining to investments, insurance, taxes, retirement and estate planning issues; however, unless they have sought additional training, they are not specifically trained in the many financial issues of divorce.
In addition, by hiring your existing financial professional to provide divorce consulting services, you are inviting the same potential conflicts of interest. It would be difficult to receive unbiased advice from your existing financial professional knowing he/she is also concerned with retaining you as a client once the assets are divided. Remember, it is prudent to obtain assistance from a neutral and qualified professional when divorcing.
- CDFA™ - Certified Divorce Financial Analyst: The CDFA designation is sponsored by the Institute of Divorce Financial Analysts™, the only national organization dedicated to the certification, education and promotion of the use of financial professionals in the divorce arena. Ideally, when seeking professional help specific to finances in divorce, your first choice should be to find a CDFA™ professional. He/she has been trained and educated on the specifics of divorce and the divorce process as well.
In addition, you should be sure to understand how your CDFA™ is compensated. While many financial professionals (investment advisors) hold the CDFA™ credentials, very few have established conflict-free business models to deliver those services. If you are required (or expected) to transfer investment assets to the advisor as your payment you should find another CDFA™ professional. Combining investment-related compensation with divorce-consulting is a conflict of interest and should be avoided at all costs. Always seek a CDFA™ who is paid hourly and/or by flat-fee arrangement. In order to be conflict-free, no financial or investment products can be sold or recommended during the divorce consulting process. You may find a CDFA™ in your area by visiting www.institutedfa.com.
Adam Waitkevich is a Certified Financial Planner practitioner that founded Divorce Financial Solutions in 2010. Adam is also the President of Stone Harbor Trust, the sister company to Divorce Financial Solutions. Adam is a frequent speaker on investment-related topics and regularly instructs family law professionals in advanced divorce finances.