Anyone going through divorce these days, particularly those with middle and upper incomes, will be besieged by a phalanx of professionals, each of whom believes that his or her service is indispensable. Many of us can (and probably should) divorce without paying anybody. You obviously can’t hire them all. So how do you know whether, and which?
Whether you choose to hire a particular professional to help you with your divorce depends on the unique aspects of your case. Here are some of the professionals who thrive in the divorce and post-divorce area, and some thoughts about when it might make sense to hire someone in that category. I’ll finish with a separate thought about the whole “collaborative divorce” movement.
- Financial planners
- Divorce coaches
- Child therapists
- Adult therapists
- Collaborative Divorce
There’s a full examination on Divorceinfo.com about using lawyers. Start with Do I need a lawyer?
If you have a continuing relationship with an accountant who has functioned as a trusted advisor over a period of years, I can’t think of anyone who could be more helpful to you right now. Your accountant not only knows your finances well; he or she also has experienced the divorces of other clients and seen some of the smart decisions and not-so-smart decisions that people make in divorce and can help you navigate the minefield of people who want you to pay them and trust them.
If there is a good-sized family business in your marriage, your accountant is almost indispensable. This is particularly true in those cases where both spouses trust the accountant.
I mediated a case a while back involving several million dollars in assets, intermingled inheritance funds, and a family business. Both spouses trusted their accountant, who attended every mediation session and frequently had sound, creative suggestions for the challenges they faced. He was invaluable. Made my job easier, too.
There’s an awful lot of free information available on the Internet these days, and most of it is high in quality. The majority of us who are reasonably savvy can’t justify paying a financial planner to tell us what we probably already know: (a) spend less, (b) save 10% of what you make, and (c) give 10% of what you make to charity. Beyond that, most of us can find out what we need to know for free on the Internet, by reading magazines, and by spending time at a public library.
I think a fee-based financial planner is a great solution, however, for a spouse (typically the wife) who has significant assets or liabilities and who has little or no experience with financial management. For this person, it can be helpful, and worth the price, to spend time with a financial planner to help think through what resources are available, what goals are most important, and how to make sure that the right amount of money gets put aside to ensure long-term security.
There’s a designation called “Certified Divorce Planner” or “Certified Divorce Financial Analyst” which includes specific training on tax and financial issues in divorce. A CDFA may be particularly useful in helping the stay-at-home spouse negotiate an adequate financial settlement from a high-income spouse. Often neither spouse realizes the disadvantages the stay-at-home spouse faces in divorce after a lengthy marriage, and a CDFA can help bring this to light and develop a realistic negotiating strategy.
There’s plenty of information about mediation and mediators elsewhere on Divorceinfo.com. Suffice it to say here that if you and your spouse agree on the terms for your divorce, there’s nothing left to mediate and you don’t need a mediator. You just need to write up an uncontested divorce and file it.
This one is the most amorphous category, because what the divorce coach talks about with you will depend not necessarily on what you need but on the training and biases of the person you use (something about hammers and nails comes to mind). If I sound skeptical, and I know I do, I’m probably being a tad unfair. I’m confident there are many talented and capable professionals calling themselves divorce coaches, whose advice, counsel, and encouragement may help you stay in control of your divorce and finish it with a sound settlement and a healthy outlook. I also know, however, and from personal experience, that there are many so-called divorce coaches who are little more than survivors of divorce who think that because they made 10 huge mistakes when they got divorced, they somehow have become qualified to help you avoid all other mistakes you might make. It rarely works that way.
I don’t know that it ever hurts to allow a child whose parents are going through a divorce to spend some time with a caring professional who is focused solely on the needs and thoughts of that child. Because parents are almost never able to do that, a child therapist or child psychologist may be a good solution. One of my counselor friends tells about the eight year old girl whose parents were divorcing. When she started wetting the bed, her mother brought her to see my friend. After two sessions with the little girl, the therapist was able to learn that the girl was convinced her parents were splitting up because the little girl had accidentally knocked her father’s bottle of whiskey on the floor and broken it. The poor little girl was just swimming in guilt and had no way to deal with it. One more session allowed the parents to lay out some of the reasons for their divorce and to satisfy their daughter that she was not responsible for it. The parents spent (out of pocket) about $165 for the therapist’s services, money well spent in most anybody’s book.
As with the other categories, of course, it’s a question of balancing the need you and your children may have for counseling against the limited funds most of us have while we’re going through divorce.
I’m a big believer in counseling, because I think it often helps us grapple with the barriers we have placed in our own way. It’s also big business, though, so you will want to keep a sharp eye on the money going out as you are committing to counseling. More than any other category of professionals, adult therapists work in a realm where it’s difficult to measure results. This allows you and your therapist to get locked in a pattern of regular meetings that don’t accomplish much.
As you’re having your first meeting with a prospective therapist, don’t be afraid to articulate your goals for the therapy. It’s possible you’re being unrealistic; if so, the therapist can clarify what he or she believes is realistically attainable and help you decide whether you want to enter therapy to accomplish these more realistic goals.
And after you and your therapist have agreed on your goals, ask your therapist for an estimate about the number of sessions (and the cost) of accomplishing them. Finish each session with a quick review of progress toward the goals you and your therapist set. This will accomplish three things: (a) it will give you a quick summary of progress so you can decide if you’re still satisfied with the process; (b) it will remind your therapist of the goals you set together, so the therapist can focus on goals rather than simply letting you take the lead; and (c) it will probably make your therapist happy. Therapists are human too, and they know it’s much more satisfying to work with someone who takes the therapist’s work seriously and focuses on results.
Okay, I’m sure I’ll get hate mail on this one. I’ve heard all about this wonderful process called “collaborative divorce,” in which the lawyers, financial planners, mediator, therapists, and, uh, coaches take a “team” approach to provide a full range of services to each spouse as they negotiate and litigate the issues of their divorce. In the collaborative divorce model, everybody is instructed to be “facilitative” rather than “confrontational.” “It’s calming.” That may or may not be. One thing I know it is: expensive. You just can’t involve all those professionals in a case without running up big bills all around. And do you really need your therapist to listen in (or even care) about the expected tax rate on the alimony you’re going to pay? I don’t see it.
The best way I know to have a collaborative divorce is for you and your spouse to have heart-to-heart talk at the kitchen table over a yellow pad. Then use the particular professional that can provide the information you need and help you solve your problem (one at a time, please) so you can both put this whole bloody business behind you and move on with your life. If you and your spouse can’t talk to each other, and I know that is the case in some divorces, it may be that what you most need to do is to save your money for a good lawyer and gear up for an adversarial divorce.
Note: it’s easy to get the “Collaborative Divorce” movement, the one I describe above, mixed up with the “collaborative law” movement, with which I am in basic sympathy. The collaborative law approach assumes that the husband and wife will talk directly with each other and that their respective attorneys will too. It usually involves a commitment by both attorneys that neither will participate in adversarial litigation if this becomes necessary. The theory of collaborative law (which I believe to be fundamentally sound) as that if both spouses face the prospect of having to locate, hire, and pay new counsel for an adversarial divorce, they will have a shared incentive to agree on a solution to avoid that.
My only beef with the collaborative law approach is its tendency to believe it’s right for everyone; this clearly is not the case. The bulk of divorcing couples don’t need separate lawyers; they can reach agreement and get one lawyer to prepare the documents for an uncontested divorce, or they can prepare the documents themselves. And at the other end of the spectrum, there are some couples — not many, but some — where one of the spouses is either too bullying, too violent, or too insane for the spouses to be able to negotiate effectively. Sometimes you just need to have a trial and let the judge do what judges do.