The first step is to gain an understanding of the process and the alternatives that are available to you. You will be asked to sign a separation agreement, which continues after a divorce. The major issues revolve around children (custody and access), finances, (support child & spousal, and the division of property. Traditionally, individuals would seek lawyer who would advise their clients of a range of outcomes and discuss some strategies. Sometimes the negotiations go smoothly, but more times than not, they don’t, and significant emotional and financial resources are spent. Many individuals and lawyers will believe the lawyer’s job is measured by the amount they can get out of the other side, and there is no vested interest in reducing the financial costs of the process.
Mediators can be effective as they meet with the two spouses and work out some consensus on the major issues. However, if a power imbalance exists, and is reflected in the mediated result, one if the lawyers will not be able to support it, and you might well end up back at the same point.
A growing concept these days is the Collaborative Law approach whereby the spouses and their lawyers agree sign an agreement to be respectful and cooperative with full disclosure and not to threaten or take recourse through the courts. If the agreement is broken, like a decision to go to court, then both parties are required to get new legal representation. This results in significant pressure for all parties to develop solutions that meet their needs and often have lower emotional and financial costs and shorter times to reach an agreement.
Another alternative, which I have found to be very successful, is what I call Pre-Legal Consulting. In these cases, I meet with both parties prior to them securing legal council. The atmosphere in my office is usually less stressful and less intimidating, and we come to an understanding of the issues and a consensus on how a proposal would address their needs and objectives. I work with both of them on their disclosures and demonstrate the short and long term effects of a proposal: need on one hand, ability to pay on the other, and fair opportunities for both to enjoy reasonable longer term and retirement possibilities. Although no legal advice is given, the intent is to prepare the proposal within acceptable guidelines. Then each party can select their legal representative and I forward my report to both lawyers for their review, input, and the necessary and required independent legal advice. This has proven to be a very cost effective approach and often involves less emotional stress and strain.
Douglas D. Lamb, CA, CFP, MBA has been providing trusted financial advice for over 30 years and is president of Spera Financial Inc., an independent firm providing financial and investment solutions to individuals undergoing separation and divorce.