The Financial Grief of Divorce

Divorce financial analyst JoAnne HoltBy JoAnne C. Holt,  Divorce financial analyst

Financial professionals working with family law cases deal with exaggerated emotions from their clients and it presents unique demands for the financial professional.

As a criminal law attorney once told me, “criminal law involves dealing with bad people on their best behavior and family law involves dealing with good people on their worst behavior.” This is very true.

The job of a financial professional often requires us to take our clients’ irrational positions, feelings and goals and redirect them into a rational thought process with a factual reality of what will be expected from them to achieve a productive outcome.

It’s important to understand a divorced dad’s feelings and what I call their “financial grief” that accompanies the emotional grief. Some of the areas involved in this financial grief include, but is by no means limited to, the following examples:

  • Loss of their marital residence
  • Loss of financial security
  • Loss of some or all of pre-marital life savings
  • Loss of marital lifestyle
  • Loss of control of finances
  • Loss of ability to provide private school or other activities for their children
  • Fear of future financial obligations

Once you have an understanding of their financial fears you can assist the client by educating them to understand the process and focus on crafting the best possible outcome. Communicate in written form with specific issues in a concise focused manner. This form of case management keeps your client on task and moving forward.

Be aware that financial issues are very much interwoven into the emotional issues regarding children, parenting plans and how you approach the division of assets. Financial issues are not in a vacuum outside of the big picture; they are the fabric that will allow other emotional ties to be stretched, connected or severed as may be necessary to finalize the dissolution.

Make it clear to your client these financial fears are normal and not a reflection of a lack of emotional depth with regard to the family issues. Talk about the elephant in the room!

I find many clients will cloud the real (what they think may be socially unacceptable) issue with false issues to appear socially acceptable. In other words, you may find a client demanding more time with their child, even though it is impractical given their work schedule, in an attempt to lower their financial obligation.

If you can peel back this demand and create an environment where they can discuss the financial fear and be accepted for the valid concern it is, you can assist the client in reaching a more rational parenting schedule and acknowledge and work through the financial fears.

Educating the client about the need for full disclosure and accountability will greatly assist their spouse’s ability to accept the outcome.

Advise your client that if one party is reluctant to explain or provide all financial information, that this may cause distrust or paranoia by the other party and result in a rejection of all other information provided.  Full disclosure is very helpful in enticing the other party along in acceptance of the financial position and thus the division of assets.


JoAnne C. Holt is a Florida-based CPA, certified family mediator, and certified divorce financial analyst. She also founded, an organization that presents alternative housing solutions to fathers going through a divorce. Her columns on finances and divorce run monthly on

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