When people start thinking about divorce, they are considering an ending but also a new beginning. The first few questions you will likely have may include: “Where do I start? How do I have clarity and deal with the anxiety of this very critical and emotional decision?”
I know how you feel because I, too, had to make that decision as a single Mom with two kids depending on me to make good long-term decisions.
The questions continue. What do I do first? Whom do I talk to? What are the steps I need to take? How can I not be another statistic of the family court system?
Fast forward to today where my business partner and I work with numerous clients faced with divorce. The longer a couple is married, the more concerned they are about the future. Usually, during a long-term marriage, financial decisions were not made alone – especially big ones. And when facing divorce, not only do you have to start making decisions solo, but you may also find yourself responsible for children. In addition to feeling overwhelmed, you may also feel guilty and worry that your kids are going to get cheated out of a happy life.
That is why I come to you with this topic. Assuming divorce is inevitable, the sooner you start the process and determine where you stand and what your options are, the sooner you can start planning for your future. And the good news is, you don’t have to do it alone!
Here’s What To Do When You Start Thinking About Divorce
Find the Right Team to Guide You Through Divorce
The first step is to invest in the development of a comprehensive financial portrait, complete with key and supporting documents, scenarios of division of marital assets, and estimated support payments. This financial portrait is a neutral document that also considers both spouses’ individual long-term goals and objectives when determining an equitable settlement.
Search the internet for a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) or another financial expert who specializes in divorce – preferably one who has no stake in investing your money but is solely interested in helping you know your options. Even if you do not have much in the way of investable assets, a holistic advisor can help you put your financial goals into perspective.
It is easy to let emotions rule when attempting to maintain your current lifestyle while divorcing. Often “for the sake of the children,” you try to keep the house, pay tuition, purchase vehicles – which was easier with two incomes. Most attorneys do not have the knowledge to give advice on the long-term financial impact of divorce. This is not to downplay the knowledge and expertise of a good family lawyer – but they studied law, not finances, so their expertise is to get you divorced legally and to make sure any order is enforceable.
A divorce financial expert, on the other hand, can demonstrate how making lifestyle changes early in divorce can ensure that you can proceed post-divorce with clarity, confidence, and financial independence. An experienced divorce financial expert can help you develop a financial plan that will prevent the risk of you being a financial burden on your kids later in life.
They will help you determine what your budget and retirement savings plan should look like, if you can afford to keep the house, or if you need to downsize. A good divorce financial analyst will help you understand cash flow, tax consequences, and how to balance income, savings, and retirement funds. A good divorce financial analyst will think forward for you and help you develop your new independent life.
Next Step: How Will Your Divorce Be Settled?
Utilizing your financial portrait as the roadmap is critical in any divorce process, and your next step is to determine which type of divorce process is the best fit for your situation. This will primarily depend on the amicability and financial complexities of your circumstances.
Most families do not require high-powered attorneys and long, expensive court battles – although litigation can be the best choice in certain situations. When trust is gone, communication consists of hurling accusations, and there’s a lot at stake – or your case involves domestic violence, or your ex has already hired a high-powered attorney – you may need to hire an equally high-powered attorney to protect your rights. Litigation doesn’t necessarily mean court – in fact, most divorce cases are settled out of court via negotiation between the lawyers.
Assuming you have taken that first critical step of assembling your financial portrait, and if you and your spouse can agree to keep things transparent and as amicable as possible, then your divorce can be accomplished with much more clarity, less stress, and for much less money than an extensive court battle.
The mediation process is typically the least costly. While the mediator cannot give advice, he/she can utilize the financial portrait as the foundation for the financial discussions. The mediator’s role is to help both parties communicate and decide on essential issues. Once an agreement is reached, the mediator draws up a Memorandum of Understanding. Typically, with mediation, each party is advised to obtain an attorney to review the agreement on their behalf.
One of the reviewing attorneys will draw up the divorce agreement and the other spouse’s attorney, if chosen, will review the agreement. If no changes are needed, both parties sign, and the papers are filed with the Court. If you feel mediation is not working for you, you may leave at any time and re-start your divorce using another process.
The collaborative divorce process is a method of divorce where both parties agree not to litigate. All professionals involved in a collaborative divorce are specially trained and work together for the best interests of the family. Each party is represented by an attorney; a financial neutral and a divorce coach are also involved. If needed, child psychologists are invited to join the sessions. The fees for all of these professionals do add up; the challenge is to work effectively and efficiently together towards the best possible outcome for the situation.
The hallmark of collaborative divorce is the agreement that everyone signs in the beginning. This document states that if either party decides to litigate in court, then all of the collaborative professionals must withdraw and the parties must start the divorce process all over again with new lawyers and new advisory professionals. If entered into in good faith by both divorcing spouses, this agreement keeps everyone moving toward the same goal: to resolve your case amicably, outside of court, in a way that meets your needs and those of your spouse and your children. One word of warning: if one spouse does not intend to honor the collaborative agreement, they can torpedo the process, costing both parties time and money and forcing them to start from scratch.
The Role of a Financial Expert in Your Divorce
Attorneys, mediators, and arbitrators know the standard procedure for divorce proceedings, but typically don’t consider, nor do they have the training and experience required to address, your individual long-term goals and objectives when determining an equitable settlement. If you’re thinking about divorce, seeking the advice of an experienced divorce financial analyst before can be the difference between a lifetime of stress and trying to make ends meet or a sound financial plan that can carry you beyond divorce!
Karen Chellew is a legal liaison at My Divorce Solution who partners with Catherine Shanahan, CDFA. My Divorce Solution is committed to helping divorcing couples develop a transparent plan via a three-phase process to optimize the outcome of their divorce. Phase 1 is the development of the financial portrait. www.mydivorcesolution.com
A version of this article originally appeared on www.mydivorcesolution.com.