A Clients Perspective on Collaborative Divorce
By: Wendy W. Spencer, CFP®, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst
I have a financial planning client, who I will call Amanda. She thought everything was going well in her life. Her business was growing, her husband just received a fantastic promotion, and, in their mid-fifties, they were looking forward to their retirement and a move to a mountain area, where they had purchased land to build a country home. Soon thereafter, Amanda became suspicious when her husband started walking the dog at unusual times, and going out of town more frequently than usual. Actually, he was making calls to his new girlfriend who he was seeing on the sly. When Amanda found out what was happening, the marriage was over. Amandas hopes and dreams had vanished, along with a husband, a father for her son, their much-anticipated retirement, and her economic stability. Understandably bitter and angry, Amanda was determined to get the very best financial settlement for herself and her son.
She was referred to an attorney who proposed a new type of divorce collaborative. Both she and her husband would have attorneys. It was very important to Amanda to have someone on her side, fighting for her, and helping her to cut the best deal possible. Her husband, passive about the divorce, hired an attorney to help advise him and steer his settlement. Sounds like a typical divorce but it wasnt. The four of them met together to discuss their issues and to satisfy interests. Amanda knew that she would have to be in frequent contact with her soon-to-be ex-husband because of issues that would arise with their son. Therefore, as angry as she was, she knew that it was important to maintain a decent relationship with her ex. Also, she knew that she was more likely to get a favorable settlement if she was reasonable.
Their financial situation was complex, so the attorneys brought in a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (not the author in this case), to produce what if? scenarios of different settlement options. The CDFA also helped them to gather financial information about their marital assets, budget, and to complete their financial affidavits. Amanda was also able to get a picture of what her future financial situation could look like, so she could do some advance planning.
When I asked Amanda about her experience with collaborative divorce, she told me that while she was incredibly angry about the divorce, and that the meetings were physically and emotionally draining, she was, however, very satisfied with the process. She was able to express her needs, and most importantly, have them heard and acknowledged. She was able to maintain a decent working relationship with her ex-husband. She felt that she had high quality legal advice, and that the financial advice was invaluable. The settlement was very comprehensive, but reasonable. Amanda also liked the team approach, with attorneys and the financial expert working together, rather than piecemeal. Although she and her spouse did not require the services of a coach, she felt that coaching could be very helpful when dealing with intense emotions. All in all, Amanda felt that collaborative divorce helped her to make the best out of a bad situation and was a healthier process in the long run than a litigated divorce.
Is collaborative divorce right for everyone? Probably not. Collaborative divorce is sort of like mediation, but on steroids. All parties, including the attorneys, financial specialists, coaches, etc., agree to work together to resolve the parties differences and meet their concerns. Collaborative divorce may not be cheaper than the traditional litigated divorce, but it can help people craft agreements that meet their needs, and, in the long run, be more emotionally productive.