02 July 2018

Financial Neutrals in the Collaborative Process

Everyone knows that divorce is stressful.  And if you didn’t know that, I’ve done some analysis on it to prove it to you.

But nobody seems to know or understand the separation process: having to navigate the rubble of your hopes and dreams to create a Separation Agreement that you never wanted in the first place.  

No one seems to understand the specific pain that you are in, that your understanding of your world has been stood on its head, or that the reactions and emotions you feel are reasonable given that your divorce may have been or not been of your choosing.

All anyone wants to talk about is the money and the law.

What monetary value can be placed on disappointed hopes, smashed trust and fear for the future? Are there enough resources in the world to assuage anger, grief and feelings of failure?

And tell me exactly, how is the law fair? Laws designed to encompass all, yet at the same time fit no one’s specific situation.

How do I know this? I've been there. I spent years in conflict with my spouse before getting thrown into the separation process and I’ve spent five years since then learning a better way to do conflict.

My role as a Financial Neutral is multifaceted but my main role is as an educator of the Collaborative Process.  Until this becomes the undisputed first choice of separating and divorcing couples, this will be how I will spend most of my time working on client files.

I am also an information gatherer. I gather financial information and I then I mine that information for what is hidden amongst that numbers:  the hopes and dreams of the parties involved and the hidden tax consequences, financial pitfalls or potential financial benefits of different courses of action.  

And lastly, I am a communicator. As the neutral in the Collaborative Process, I can share the information with everyone on the file in a clear and unbiased manner so that the parties involved can begin to discuss options that can combine with their newly discovered hopes and dreams to create the Separation Agreement and life they want post-divorce.

I have worked on files that I would consider successful Collaborative files and on files where “we did the best we could under the circumstances.” And that is what I’ve discovered makes the difference on successful and not so successful files: the circumstances of the file. 

This is what makes for a more successful file, in my experience:

  • Luck!  In that at least one party understands how the Collaborative Process works and can convince their partner to try it or luck in that the first point of contact for the separating couple is someone who can convince both parties of the merits of the Collaborative Process so that the parties willingly sign a Participation Agreement.
  • A standardized process in which it is assumed that all team members: Collaborative Lawyers, Divorce Coaches, Financial Neutral and a Child Specialist, will be involved from the beginning of the process. If it turns out a specific professional is not needed, then they can be phased out of the process. This is far easier to do than adding them in later when the file has become stuck.
  • A process where the financial information is gathered at the start of the file by the Financial Neutral.

Once the process is established, I have specific tasks as a financial neutral:

  • Creating a listing of assets and debts, which includes tracing their financial history
  • Reviewing tax returns
  • Creating budgets
  • Financial literacy training
  • Building forecasts based on options created by the clients
  • Advising and assistance with separation and divorce tax return planning and filing
  • Assistance with support reviews

So, if you have found yourself reading to here, then consider that your first piece of luck. You may be wondering where to start as you navigate your separation or divorce and you may have been wondering what first step to take.

Contact a Collaborative Professional; talk to a few and find a professional that you trust.  Explain that you are embarking on separating from your spouse and you want a healthy divorce and you’ve been told the best way to do that is use a team of professionals.

You need a mental health professional or Divorce Coach to help you develop options that are in line with the values that drive you forward in life.

You need a lawyer to advise you of the legal rules around separation and divorce and who can also document the separation agreement that you are going to use to navigate your new life post-divorce.

And you need a Financial Specialist to help you figure out where you stand financially at this moment in life and to also give you information about what your future financial situation could look like depending on which options you choose and decisions you make.