Assembling your Divorce Squad is critical to the success of your journey. Divorce can show us a side of life hard to imagine without having gone through it before. Riddled with emotional, social, legal, and financial complexities and grey areas, it is a process in which the very foundation of our lives as we know them must be unwound, and that is not easy. If you are considering divorce or already engaged in the process, there is a lot to consider. On a personal level, after years of partnership with another person, this could very well be the first time you will need to navigate a situation on your own again. The loss of that feeling of companionship during difficult times and the ability to emotionally share the struggle can hit you hard. You might find your social surroundings uprooted in the process as well among your friends, as people often take sides and sometimes other couples are unsure of how to navigate the circumstances with you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse. This can leave you feeling further isolated, right at the time when you need the most support. And one of the hardest parts can be seeing a side of your spouse you never knew existed, as the pressure of the divorce process can bring out uglier sides of even the most wonderful people. The difficulty of divorce is often underestimated, and this is why establishing a support network of family, friends, and professionals is so paramount. While all of these personal struggles might be going on, you will be faced with what can be incredibly complex decisions around your finances, your children if you have them, and what the rest of your life might look like. On the other side of divorce, you will learn a lot about yourself, and the empowerment you find in newfound self-reliance can be liberating. But the divorce process itself is not the time to go it alone. Enter: the team. Here we will focus on three members of your team who will play incredibly important roles. Assembling your Divorce Squad ahead of time will mean you do not need to navigate this labyrinth alone, and it will mean in your most difficult moments you have the compassionate, well-meaning, and grounded presence of many minds and hearts advocating for you. Choosing the right team will be one of the most important things you do, and it can make all the difference.
Team member one: the attorney.
The attorney is your quarterback and the experienced guide to help you navigate uncharted territory. They have the system, the roadmap, the expertise, and firepower to get you to the other side with as little damage as possible. Divorce is rarely a clean cut, bank account friendly process, and injury of some type is inevitable. They, however, are here to minimize that, and the importance of having the right attorney cannot be understated. So let’s examine three important items to consider when selecting the right attorney: the cost, the team, and the person.
A good attorney can be expensive. A divorce with a poor attorney however can be catastrophic. This is not an area in which to skimp. With this said, it is important to find an attorney with the right level of expertise and resources to match the complexity of your divorce. Having the city’s top attorney might help your odds of winning any litigation that takes place or maximize your results in mediation, but make sure there are enough assets being split to justify whatever that cost is. After all, it is only that which is left after legal fees that will find its way into your bank account. The consequences can be far too severe however to roll the dice with an attorney who does not have a proven track record. If erring in either direction, it is prudent to choose quality and competence over more short-sighted budgeting.
Make sure your attorney has an experienced team behind them with diverse areas of expertise as well as varying levels of tenure. This is important for two reasons: to make sure you have highly experienced experts readily at hand when complications arise as well as having lower-cost staff available to perform non-essential tasks at a lower hourly rate to keep your costs reasonable.
One of the larger mistakes people make in choosing an attorney is not properly valuing the character of the professional. A compassionate attorney with values and empathy goes a long way. They will fight for what is right and be in your corner to put in the extra effort when it counts if you are not just a transaction to them. And these qualities do not go unnoticed by judges and mediators. Personality and people skills are an asset in this world. Additionally, generally the less contentious a divorce is, the less it costs you personally and financially. An attorney with good conflict resolution skills is imperative. A conflict-hungry attorney can cost you dearly in terms of relationships, results, and fees, and the divorce process can be extended substantially through the creation of new issues. While most attorneys demonstrate great professionalism and integrity, an unscrupulous or undisciplined attorney might be tempted to do so in order to receive increased compensation. Remember, character is everything.
Team member two: The personal support network.
As your attorney guides you through the more technical aspects of your divorce, your personal support network is there to help maintain your morale, perspective, and sense of self. Just as legal fees need to be paid to the attorney, positive social interaction needs to be invested in you to keep you moving forward. We will divide this team into three categories: the B-Team, the Keepers, and the New Recruits.
We all have the childhood friends, the old relationships, and the familiar faces we have grown accustomed to. But for some, divorce can be one of the most trying experiences of their lives, and it is important to really put some thought into who you choose to surround yourself with in this time. Problems, negativity, and instability are things you cannot afford to have people bringing into your life right now. Cutting some social ties here, where needed, will give you a stronger team to help you get through your divorce and will also build a more positive community to explore your post-divorce life with and build upon.
Within those existing relationships, you then have the keepers. They are the bedrock supporting you with positivity, solidarity, and empathy, and your relationship with these people can very well strengthen even further through the shared experience of going through this tough time in your life. These people are worth their weight in gold, and this is the time to ask of them. Make them aware of what you could use help with, when you could use company, and when it would be nice to talk concepts through. People like this want to be there for you. Remember that not everyone always knows what you need, and letting them know can make it much easier for them to be effective members of your inner circle. Take note of who these people are. Anyone who shows up ready to help in your moments of need are people worth giving back to in multiples when this is all over and you have the capacity to do so.
The New Recruits
These will often be some of the most important members of your team. You just don’t know who they are yet. The two types of newcomers to your social circle who will be instrumental over the course of your divorce and after are those who you can relate to and those who you will grow with. Those who you can relate to will be the friendships you find forming with others who have been through or been affected by divorce themselves, who can relate to these deep personal experiences you are having. Divorce can be isolating, especially if you are amongst the first of your friends or family to have been through it, and these people can help bring back the sense of normalcy that can sometimes take a long time to recover when so much of life has been uprooted. The new friends you can grow with are the ones who will be there by your side exploring new areas of life with you as you reestablish what your life looks like after divorce. New hobbies and passions, changes in perspective, evolving values… these are all areas in which new relationships will likely form, and having inspiring people with whom to grow can help build a real sense of optimism and opportunity. You will undoubtedly change through this experience, in some capacity. That is a good, healthy thing that can be embraced and turned into something wonderful with the right people surrounding you.
Team Member Three: The financial advisor.
Divorce is neither cheap nor simple. Similar to the role your attorney plays in navigating you through a technical landscape, your financial advisor is at the helm of sailing you through notoriously rough seas, and it is their responsibility to delivery you safely to shore on the other side with as minimal damage as possible. A proper captain needs experience at sea, technical knowhow of how every part of the ship works, and an absolute dedication to your safety and prosperity. The same holds true for your financial advisor, and we will examine three crucial criteria that your advisor should meet to qualify for this position.
Your advisor, or someone on their team, needs to know what a divorce process looks like in detail and know where they need to take proactive steps to protect you from common pitfalls that are often overlooked. In splitting assets, specific differences between accounts are regularly missed, such as tax treatment (are they traditional, Roth, or taxable), liquidity (can these assets be sold or accessed easily), and product features (does an account have principal protection or additional benefits). This can inadvertently result in highly inequitable divisions of assets. Similarly, an advisor needs to have an intricate understanding of a variety of different types of assets, such as how to properly value the cash value of a permanent life insurance policy, how to factor in the capital gains within individual securities, or how to compare the value of a classic securities account to that of a sub account of a variable annuity. Many people going through divorce assume their attorney will be familiar with how to do all of this, but remember that there are thousands of financial instruments, each with different rules and complexities to them, and it is unrealistic to expect that your attorney will be an expert on both legal matters and the intricacies of financial products and how they work. Beyond account and product specifics, your advisor must also demonstrate a knowledge of rules and restrictions around various accounts, knowing which assets can be transferred between spouses and which require QDROs or court orders. Having experience allows for proper execution but also anticipation, and anticipation means your advisor can coordinate with your attorneys properly ahead of time to save you in extra legal fees and additional complications that come from approaching these items reactively. Your attorney and financial advisor should be working hand in hand throughout your divorce process.
Focus on the Client
A financial advisor properly suited for undertaking the responsibilities of your divorce process with you is not just a money manager. They are helping you to rebuild your life in a new way, and that goes far beyond stock and bond selections. Often overlooked is that an advisor is now working with an entirely new client. While before, they might have been managing a relationship with a couple, they are now working one-on-one with this client, and that client might have very different wishes, values, or dreams than those once planned for. Divorce can be a deep transformational event for people, and a financial plan needs to be reassessed from the ground up as though the client were a brand new relationship, revisiting all the ideas and analysis that went into the former-couple’s previous financial plan. Great financial advisors understand that money is just a tool, and it is secondary in importance to the individual they are serving. Personalization and truly understanding a client’s vision for their future are the underpinnings of any plan worth its salt, and a client should be left feeling empowered and understood as a person.
The first day after your divorce is finalized, you will receive a number of calls. Your estate planner knows to call you to update your legal documents, your mortgage lender calls to explain everything you need to know about refinancing as an individual homeowner now, your life insurance agent calls to make the appropriate changes to your life insurance policies, your property and casualty insurance agent calls to change your home and auto insurance policies, and your bank calls to sort out your checking, savings, and online access between you and your ex-spouse. This sounds like a fantastically clean-cut and well-run experience. Unfortunately, this typically could not be further from reality, as you will likely be on your own now to figure out all the areas of your financial life that need to be addressed. This is where your financial advisor can be a game changer. A holistic advisor who is familiar with all the different areas of your financial life, including both the areas they work on and the areas that they do not, and understands how they come together into one picture, can preempt this entire process and lay out the groundwork for a post-divorce overhaul. A fresh start from day one with a plan in place is not impossible. It just takes the right partners.
As you have gathered by now, divorce is not simple, and it rarely goes as expected. The team behind you, guiding you through the process and helping you to rebuild on the other side, will be one of your biggest assets over the coming months or years if you are approaching a divorce or considering it. So what, then, are the next steps, and when is the right time to start planning? As in all matters of high priority, the best time is always now. It is in the preparation more than anything else that the results of your divorce are determined, and this event can have far too large of an impact on your life to not provide it with the planning and attention that proper execution will require. So, begin by asking trusted contacts of yours for referrals and recommendations. Who have people worked with before? Who do the people that you respect trust to help them in their own lives? Ask for multiple recommendations. Talk to them all. This is your team, and they need to be the right fit for you, your personality, and your life. There is a fourth member of your team that we did not list here, and it is the most important member of all. The fourth member is you. While having an excellent team in place will surround you with well-intentioned and competent people who will do their very best to help you, you will need to take ownership of assembling this team and helping to lead it in the right direction. After all, the team is here to serve you, and in order to do so to the best of their abilities, they will need to know what they are here to accomplish for you. So, stay strong, stay resilient, and value yourself and your future. This process will test you, and you have within you and around you every resource you will need if you know where to look.
Start Assembling Your Divorce Squad Here.
Nicholas Ferbert is a Financial Advisor with Baystate Financial in Boston, MA. The ﬁrm has over 120 years of experience serving clients around the country. Nicholas and his team and provide comprehensive ﬁnancial planning, investment management, and life insurance to clients of all types. Securities offered through qualiﬁed registered representatives of MML Investors Services, LLC. Member SIPC. 200 Clarendon Street, 19th & 25th Floors. Boston, MA 02116. 617-585-4500