By JoAnne C. Holt
You probably shy away from hiring a divorce financial expert in the early stages of your divorce, thinking, “Maybe we are going to get through this amicably”, or “We both want to take the high road” or maybe even “It is really simple”. The most common reason for postponing or not even considering a financial expert in your divorce is the fear of the costs. Nothing could be further from the reality, assuming you find the right person!
My favorite role is that of a “neutral financial expert.” This is not to say that if I am hired by one party I am not objective and neutral, which is required to be taken seriously as an expert in court. The benefit of the neutral expert is the information and opportunities from that relationship.
Here are a couple of the advantages.
- Keep the Discovery Requests Down. Normally, I interview the clients separately to create a list of all assets owned jointly, separately or with another investor as well as identify marital and non-marital debts. When the list has been established, instead of a blanket discovery request going out asking for the last 5 years of bank statements, credit card statements, utility bills and more, I create a customized discovery request. What good is an attorney asking for tax returns but not know how to read them? I have found countless errors on prior returns resulting in tax refunds to the parties and “found money” in a divorce. By working with both parties, financial experts are also able to identify problem areas and work on resolutions. We can explain financial issues to a suspicious spouse much better than the spouse. Once the answers are provided, paranoia diminishes and the demand for investigations can decrease or dropped altogether. So if we can zero in early on what exactly needs to be done we can reduce costs associated with taking off in different directions without a plan.
- Educate and Coach Your Soon-To-Be Ex. Was your spouse’s out of control spending one of the reasons you wanted a divorce? The financial expert should be able to create a budget and show the “unreasonable” spouse there is only so much to go around and two households cost more than one. So that dream of staying home, not working and counting on alimony till death do you part is quickly addressed. If unrealistic expectations are not addressed early, it is much more difficult to get the recipient spouse to agree after months of expecting some unrealistic amount of money in the form of child support and alimony.
Remember, using a good team approach assigns the complexities of the divorce to those with the strengths in each area. Would you go to a general practitioner for cancer treatment? No. Go over your case with your attorney and identify areas that need to be addressed. It may be counseling, which could be another expense, but if done properly can help heal the restructured family so anger isn’t driving the costs out of control. Or it may be a financial expert.
JoAnne C. Holt is a Florida-based CPA, certified family mediator, and certified divorce financial analyst. She also founded www.standbyhousing.com, an organization that presents alternative housing solutions to fathers going through a divorce. Her columns on finances and divorce will run monthly on DadsDivorce.com.