In the team approach of collaborative divorce, the Neutral Financial Professional (FP) can be an enormous asset. Instead of each client paying the billing rate for his or her family lawyer to work up their financials separately (the protocol in litigation), the collaborative team has only one financial player, so only one fee to be split between the clients. Additionally, the FP is a financial expert equipped to assist with the morass of financial questions that will undoubtedly play out through the process. Also a plus: this financial aficionado has no dog in the fight other than to fight for the best outcome for everyone.
The FP (usually a financial planner, occasionally a CPA tax expert) has a wealth of pertinent financial knowledge that relates to the issues inherent in divorce. To this end, the FP creates a spreadsheet detailing the couple’s financial particulars —an inventory of all assets and liabilities—everything they own and owe. With the itemized spreadsheet clearly displaying the financial standing of the clients, a picture emerges from the chaos and possible settlement scenarios can be contemplated. Whether to sell a house, tax implications, how to divide the estate—these are all matters where the FP can contribute knowledge, alternatives, and guidance. Each situation is unique. For instance, potential income tax on the sale of a marital residence can be different if the couple sells the property together or separately; they can also opt to co-own the home for a period of time (until summer, often, so kids don’t have to switch school locations mid-year). Based on the couple’s financial realities, the FP can advise the most advantageous course of action for the whole family’s future.
While the team has joint meetings with all parties present, “offline” meetings are also a mainstay for efficiency and cost-control. (For example, the Neutral Mental Health Professional will meet with only the clients to work on their co-parenting plan. The FP would not attend these meetings.) Financially speaking, often one spouse has historically been “in charge” to some degree of the finances, which can leave the other spouse feeling left at a disadvantage. The FP is available “offline” to answer as many questions as necessary for either client to become more knowledgeable or to present and explain possible solutions. A clear grasp of the financial situation can help clients decide where they might compromise—what could be a bargaining chip—and what for them is non-negotiable. This can help bring out of the box solutions to the table.
Finally, the NFP is integral to settlement negotiations. The collaborative process is utterly customizable, decidedly not cookie cutter. The outcomes can be designed to fit this particular family. While no one gets everything they want, at the end of the day, both clients must agree to the settlement. This sense of responsibility and participation in decision-making goes a long way in helping everyone in the family move forward.