“Divorce is one of the most financially traumatic things you can go through. Money spent on getting mad or getting even is money wasted.”
The collaborative process uses a team based approach to help you and your spouse come to a mutually acceptable agreement, stay out of the courtroom, and move forward with your lives. You may decide, in consultation with your attorneys, to use a financial neutral within the collaborative process to help you reach agreement about the financial issues. Just how can the financial neutral help you?
The financial neutral can help address issues of financial mistrust. The financial neutral will help identify the necessary and appropriate data needed to ensure full disclosure of all relevant financial information. Trust increases when you are comfortable that all the assets and liabilities have been disclosed. The financial neutral also has the expertise needed to review tax returns, bank, investment and retirement plan statements, and other financial documents to evaluate individual transactions, changes in account balances, and/or terms and conditions of complex financial instruments. Trust also increases when you are comfortable that you understand your complete financial picture and have had your questions answered.
The financial neutral can help allay some of your financial fears and anxieties. It’s commonplace for one spouse to handle the family’s finances and for the other spouse to take on some other family chore. A lack of familiarity with the family finances contributes to worry and anxiety about the future. If all the parties agree, the financial neutral will spend some extra time with the spouse who has not been intimately involved with the finances. This extra time may be devoted to creating a new budget, understanding the composition of the family’s finances, or reviewing a projection of income, taxes and expenses. The increased education and understanding diminishes some of the anxiety and concern.
The financial neutral can save you money. Often, in the traditional, non-collaborative divorce process, each party hires his or her own financial expert, who focuses solely on the individual client. This single-minded focus may ignore the impact of a financial decision on the whole family, or on the future relationship of the parties as co-parents, or on the ability to reach an agreement, or on the durability of the decision. Two experts also results in twice the fees. The collaborative financial neutral, however, evaluates financial information and financial options from the perspective of each spouse, sharing this information without advocating any particular solution, so that the parties working together can reach an agreement that recognizes both of their interests and concerns.
The financial neutral can help you move forward with your lives. Along with your attorneys, the financial neutral can help you answer specific questions: When do we close the joint bank account? When do we close the joint credit cards? Who can I call to get information about refinancing? How do we handle the payment of unanticipated, one-time expenses for the children? The financial neutral can also help you estimate and review your after-tax income and budget, so that you can develop a plan to save, avoid debt, and pursue your future financial goals.
The financial neutral can help you reach an agreement that you both can live with. The financial neutral can help you evaluate the implications of a financial option that is under consideration. If there is an option to refinance the marital home, how does that change the housing budget and the mortgage interest tax deduction? If there is an option to ‘buyout’ the other spouse’s marital interest in the house by ‘trading’ a retirement account, how is the retirement account valued, since it is taxable? If there is an option for alimony, how does alimony impact the after-tax cash flow for each person? Receiving information about the implications of an option provides the level of understanding needed to make decisions and reach agreement.
The support of a financial neutral in the collaborative process can help increase trust, reduce worry and concern, increase knowledge and understanding, save money, and assist you in reaching a durable and lasting financial agreement.
Cynthia Zagorski is a CPA, Certified Financial Planner® and Certified Divorce Financial AnalystTM with substantial experience as the financial neutral in the collaborative process. She also works with clients and attorneys in negotiation, mediation and litigation.