Bedrock Divorce Advisors
How to Find a Divorce Attorney, Divorce Financial Planner and Other Members of Your Divorce Team
Everyone wants to survive divorce with their finances –and their emotions –intact. So, I suppose it’s not surprising that the question I get asked most often is this:
Jeff, what can I do to ensure the best possible outcome for my divorce?
That’s a great question, and I love responding to it because the answer is quite simple and direct.
If you want to ensure the best possible outcome for your divorce do this:
Build a winning divorce team.
Granted, the words “divorce team” may sound a little strange at first. Years ago, a couple didn’t need a “team” to help them navigate the divorce process. Typically, lawyers were the only professionals required. Over the past decade or so, though, our day-to-day lives, our careers, our finances –and the rules and restrictions that govern all of these –have grown much more complicated.
To ensure the best possible outcome for your divorce today, you’ll also need the support of other professionals, particularly those who can help ensure your financial protection both now and in the future.
Sure, hiring additional professionals will cost you more in fees, but it will be more than worth it to protect your long-term financial well-being. Take my advice: Get all the help you can, and use this help to plot a course strategically.
Who should be on your winning divorce team?
Individual circumstances vary, but in general, I find that these three players are the cornerstone of an optimal divorce team:
• A Matrimonial/Family Law Attorney
• A Divorce Financial Planner
• A Therapist/counselor
Here’s some advice about how to go about finding each of these team members.
1. A Matrimonial/Family Law Attorney. Look for an attorney who exclusively handles divorce cases or one who devotes at least 75% of their practice to divorce. Ideally, your lawyer will be a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, which requires their members to fulfill a variety of stringent requirements. For instance, a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, must:
• have at least a 75% specialization in matrimonial law
• be admitted to the Bar for at least 10 years
• pass both oral and written exams
• pursue continuing education
There are both state and national legal organizations that offer Board Certifications in Matrimonial/Family Law, but I do not believe that their requirements are as rigorous as the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.
I suggest you interview at least three attorneys for this critical position, and during the interview, please talk openly about the individual complexities of your case. I realize this may seem painful, or embarrassing, or stressful, but it really is best for you to have all your cards on the table from the very start.
Of course, you’ll want to talk openly about each lawyer’s qualifications and fees, as well. Ask each candidate:
• How many divorce cases have you recently handled?
• How many have been settled and how many have gone to trial?
• What were the outcomes of the cases that went to trial?
• Do you typically represent the husband or wife? What percentage of each?
• Will you personally handle all aspects of the case, or will you pass responsibility for the case to a more junior attorney and/or paralegal (and at whose rate will you be charged)?
Ultimately, you should hire a qualified divorce lawyer who has sufficient experience in cases like yours (e.g. custody, high-net-worth, etc.).
And, here’s one more important piece of advice to keep in mind when selecting a divorce attorney: Remember to make certain you feel personally at-ease with whomever you choose. By its very nature, divorce is a delicate and emotional experience. You need your attorney to be a trusted, supportive and forward-thinking resource before, during, and even after, the divorce is complete.
2. A Divorce Financial Planner. The divorce financial planner is the financial expert on your divorce team, the person who is responsible for creating the comprehensive financial analyses and the projections that you and your divorce attorney will need to fully understand the short- and long-term financial and tax implications of each proposed divorce settlement offer.
Divorce financial planners should work hand-in-hand with divorce attorneys, but their job is to take care of the critical financial tasks that are beyond the scope of the divorce attorneys’ expertise. Those tasks can range from preparing the financial affidavits to projecting the financial and tax implications of each divorce settlement option.
At a minimum, your divorce financial planner should have the Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) designation. Do not use a regular financial advisor, financial planner, CPA or accountant. Instead, you need someone who has a complete understanding of, and specialized training in, divorce.
Ideally, your divorce financial planner also will have additional advanced training in divorce financial planning strategies and asset protection. The CDFAs with advanced training here at Bedrock Divorce Advisors™ are called Divorce Financial Strategists™.
Think of the divorce financial planner like the quarterback of your financial team. Your attorney will use analyses and projections prepared by the divorce financial planner to substantiate and justify his/her positions when negotiating with your husband’s attorney. If needed, your divorce financial planner also can bring in additional specialists, including:
• A forensic accountant. Are you concerned about hidden income/assets/liabilities and/or the possible dissipation of marital assets (vacations taken by your husband with his girlfriend and gifts he might have bought her)? A forensic accountant helps explore these concerns and may also be very useful when one or both spouses own a business or professional practice where, unfortunately, it is rather easy to hide income/assets and/or delay revenues and increase expenses (pad the payroll, fictitious charges, etc.).
• A valuation expert. Once you have “real” numbers from the forensic accountant, a valuation expert can determine the worth of a business or professional practice. A valuation expert can also establish the value of an advanced degree or training, stock options and/or restricted stock, etc.
• A real estate appraiser. The marital home and other real estate are often among the largest assets that need to be divided. A real estate appraiser determines the value of the marital home and can also appraise vacation home(s), commercial real estate, land, etc.
3. A therapist/counselor. Many people describe divorce as an emotional rollercoaster. A qualified therapist can help you cope with your feelings as you navigate the ups and downs along the way. As with the other members of your divorce team, choose carefully. You want to feel comfortable with your therapist, and you want to work with someone who is qualified to meet your needs. You will need to choose among:
• Psychiatrists. These doctors have medical training and are licensed to prescribe drugs.
• Psychologists. These professionals have PhDs or PsyDs in psychology. They specialize in cognitive behavioral therapy.
• Licensed professional counselors. These mental health professionals are licensed by the state. Most have a master’s degree or doctoral degree in counseling or a related field.
• Social workers. Social workers offer psychosocial services for the treatment of emotional concerns.
Ask your primary care physician for recommendations of therapists who work in your area, and be sure to inquire with your health insurance provider to determine the mental health coverage provided by your plan.
No one thinks divorce is easy. But, you don’t have to go it alone. Build a top-notch divorce team, and you’ll have the professional expertise and support you need to survive with your finances –and your emotions –intact.
All articles/blog posts are for informational purposes only, and do not constitute legal advice. If you require legal advice, retain a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author, who is not an attorney.