How to find and choose the best possible advisors to help you.
Divorce is a complex process that affects just about every aspect of your life, from financial to emotional, physical to legal. Unless you've been married for only a short time and have no property, assets, or children, you'll probably need some professional help to get on track to a healthy, happy post-divorce future. The central figure in your divorce process, aside from you and your spouse, is probably your lawyer, but other professionals can help to smooth the road ahead of you.
If you're still on speaking terms with your spouse, consider the services of a mediator, who will give you the opportunity to negotiate the terms of your divorce settlement outside of a courtroom setting. In addition, some lawyers and other professionals are now using a collaborative process, in which both parties' professionals work together towards a common settlement goal. Ask prospective lawyers what options might best suit the circumstances of your particular case.
Accountants and financial planners can handle most of the financial aspects of your divorce prior to, during, and after your divorce is finalized. A therapist can see you through your "emotional divorce," enabling you to start creating a new life for yourself.
While each of these professionals can help you through a stressful transition period, finding the right person can create its own stress. Here's a guide to help you choose a good lawyer, a reliable financial professional, a competent mediator, and the therapist who's right for you.
Choosing which lawyer will represent you may be the most important decision you'll make during your divorce proceedings. As in any profession, there are good lawyers and bad lawyers. It's up to you to do your homework and to ask the right questions to determine which group your lawyer belongs to.
Finding a Lawyer
Look for someone who:
Questions to Ask a Prospective Lawyer
The outcome of your divorce proceedings will change the course of your life forever, so invest the time and money to find the lawyer who will do the best job for you. Here are the questions you should ask during your initial interview:
Finally, if there's something you really need to know, or if you don't understand something the lawyer said, don't be afraid to ask for clarification. There's no such thing as a stupid question when it comes to decisions that will affect the rest of your life. Bring this list of questions with additions, if necessary, to suit your individual circumstances with you to the initial interview; that way, you'll know if all of your concerns have been handled.
Mediation has become a popular way to settle a divorce. You and your spouse, with the help of a third-party mediator, work together to negotiate how to live successful lives apart. Mediation can save time and money and is usually less emotionally damaging than a full-blown court battle. Together, you and your spouse work out an agreement you can both live with from the same side of the mediation table rather than from opposing sides of the courtroom.
Mediation isn't an option in all divorce cases, but when both parties are willing to look at the issues instead of the emotions that cloud the issues, mediation is worth a try. Statistics show that when a case is negotiated through a mediator, the parties tend to stay out of court in the future. Another benefit of a mediated settlement is that you and your spouse will learn powerful new communication techniques, which is particularly important if you have children or share business interests.
Finding a Mediator
Mediation doesn't normally eliminate the need for a lawyer: your lawyer will have to approve any agreements made by you and your spouse before they become legally binding. However, the mediation process can speed up negotiations because you and your spouse communicate directly instead of through a "broken telephone" chain from your spouse to your spouse's lawyer to your lawyer to you. Many family-law practitioners are also trained mediators, so finding a mediator may simply be a question of asking your lawyer about his or her own qualifications. When selecting someone to mediate your case, scrutinize the individual's qualifications. Ask to see a resume, and ask how long he/she has been practicing, and whether he/she has ever mediated a case such as yours.
The following organizations can point you in the direction of a qualified, competent mediator.
Questions to Ask a Prospective Mediator
A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) can handle many of the financial matters of your case. His or her responsibility is to calculate your and your spouse's net worth and to produce figures that are agreeable to both you and the courts. There are a number of different accreditations given to accountants, and you'll find these designations after their name. Wading through the differences between someone who is a CFE (Certified Fraud Examiner) or a BCFE (Board Certified Forensic Examiner), or a member of the ASA (American Society of Appraisers), or a member of NACVA, (National Association of Certified Valuation Accreditation) may seem a daunting task to understand all of the distinctions, but by doing a little research, you'll come to understand what you need to know.
Finding an Accountant
Usually, the best and easiest way to find an accountant is through your lawyer. These two members of your divorce team may have to work in tandem from time to time, so it's important to find someone your lawyer is familiar with. You could also ask your personal accountant (if you have one) to suggest someone who has a matrimonial background, but be sure to check his/her prior experience when you do so.
The most important factors are the accountant's qualifications, your comfort level, and how the accountant interacts with your lawyer. Look for an accountant who is honest and forthright, and who offers reasonable economic terms.
Divorce Financial Professionals
When your marriage has been dissolved, and even during the divorce process itself, you may want to employ a financial expert who has been specially trained in issues that pertain to separation and divorce.
CDFAs tend to be (American or Canadian) financial planners or accountants who have completed the Institute of Divorce Financial Analyst's training. A CDFA can help you with budgeting, or assist with tax, estate, or retirement planning. He or she will help you organize your financial future by proposing a personalized plan with a time horizon and a solid investment strategy to help you towards financial stability for tomorrow. They analyze settlements in the context of the client's long-term economic situation and inform them of those that may appear fair and equitable on the surface but will not stand the test of time. A CDFA can reduce the uncertainty about the future by forecasting the economic effects of alternative settlement proposals. For instance, a CDFA can tell you what the economic consequences will be of keeping one asset over another. You can find a CDFA by contacting the Institute for Certified Divorce Financial Analysts at (800) 875-1760 or at www.InstituteDFA.com.
In Canada, individuals can also work with a Financial Divorce Specialist (FDS). This credential was developed to equip Canadian financial professionals with the advanced knowledge they need to guide their clients through divorce. The intensive FDS course teaches advisors divorce-related issues, such as the division of assets, insurance, budgets, and child and spousal support. Only 100 financial advisors in Canada hold the FDS designation. You can find a FDS through the Academy of Financial Divorce Specialists, (888) 893-7526 or at www.afds.ca.
Questions to Ask a Prospective Financial Professional
How to Work with Your Financial Professional
When you sit down at the initial interview, you may choose not to bring any important paperwork with you. It's important to establish a good rapport. It's a meeting of personalities, and you're looking for respect, understanding, and an ability to talk freely. However, once you start into the financial legalities of the case, there are several important documents your accountant or planner will need to see:
You'll also need valuations or other paperwork detailing property you and your spouse own together or separately, from the contents of a safety deposit box to the car to your home. Although you'll be dealing mainly with "big ticket items" here, if something is very important to you, make sure it's on your list. If a business is involved, brokerage statements or corporate minute books will also be required. Basically, your accountant or planner needs to see any major paperwork that involves the transaction of money for both you and your spouse.
Until you achieve your "emotional divorce," you won't truly be free to create a fulfilling new life for yourself. A qualified therapist can help you work through the issues that are holding you back — and keeping you stuck in the past.
Finding a Therapist
The process of finding the right therapist can be a frustrating one. Anyone can call him or herself a "therapist" regardless of background or training, so do your due diligence to find someone competent. A therapist with an "MD" after his/her name is a psychiatrist; one with a "Ph.D." is a psychologist. If you see the letters "MSW," it means this person has a Master's degree in social work; an "LCSW" is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. If possible, choose a therapist who specializes in marriage and divorce.
A good place to start your search is with your family doctor or another health-care professional you know and respect. You could also ask a friend, or a member of your divorce support group (if you have one), if he/she would recommend his/her counselor.
Setting realistic limits and goals is an important part of the therapist's services. Good therapists are willing to listen, but they don't always have to agree with you.
Questions to Ask a Prospective Therapist
Here are some important questions to ask your prospective therapist:
A good therapist will encourage questions that indicate you're interested in your own recovery. As you glance around the therapist's office, try to imagine yourself coming here every week for several months. Do you feel relatively comfortable here? During and after your initial consultation, ask yourself these questions:
Remember, it can take three to five sessions before you have a clear idea of whether this therapist is the right one for you. But if you really don't like your answers to these questions, then trust your inner voice, thank the counselor for his/her time, and interview the next candidate.
Where to find a therapist: