Traditionally, married couples experiencing challenges with their relationship have sought out family therapists or religious leaders to work out their issues. This process typically takes months if not years to reach a resolution. In most cases marital therapy is effective, but a 2005 NY Times article reports that 25 percent of couples are worse off than they were when they started, and after four years, up to 38 percent are divorced.
Is there an alternative to marital therapy? The good news is that a recent trend within family mediation called marital mediation has shown some positive signs of becoming an effective alternative to traditional therapy. The major benefit with this form of conflict resolution is that it is designed to reach an agreement in weeks rather than months or years. It also models effective communication skills so that the couple is better able to work out their own issues in the future.
To learn more about the pros and cons of marital mediation, visit http://www.maritalmediation.com/questions-about-marital-mediation/.
As a long-time member and past president of the CT Council for Non-Adversarial Divorce (www.gooddivorceCT.org), I am prone to be biased about the traditional litigation process as a means to resolve a divorce. I strongly believe that mediation and collaborative divorce (explained in an earlier blog) are a better way to go. That being said, sometimes litigation is the only available option.
I was just speaking with a collaborative divorce attorney who is representing a husband. She told me that he is being rather uncooperative and that she is considering a recommendation that the case be referred to litigation attorneys. This would be unfortunate, but if an individual refuses to act in good faith, a voluntary process such as mediation or collaborative divorce just won’t work. The other spouse would be at risk of signing a bad agreement if not all of the information is disclosed openly and honestly. If you find yourself in this or another similar situation and the last resort is a litigated divorce, please keep a few things in mind before you select an attorney.
Unless you think there is a really good chance your case will go to trial (only about 5% do), you should probably avoid hiring a “big gun.” Most of the uber-expensive attorneys in my area (like $700 – $800 per hour) are paid that kind of money for their trial expertise. I know great attorneys that bill under $500 that I refer to all the time. Since the vast majority of cases settle, it makes no sense to pay those crazy fees. I just worked with a client that spent $175,000 on a case that settled without a trial. She hired one of the highest paid lawyers around based on one person’s referral and did no investigating of her own. I’m sure she could have gotten the same deal for a quarter of that fee.
You also want to be sure that the attorney you hire isn’t going to purposely stir things up just to create a stronger need for legal action which he or she can bill for. When you interview an attorney and they start talking about how you can screw your soon-to-be ex and take him/her to the cleaners, you should run for the door. A good attorney will listen to your situation intently and try to help you settle the case with the least amount of acrimony possible. Believe it or not, there are compassionate lawyers out there that want to do the right thing.
If you are in CT, I would be happy to refer attorneys that are willing to litigate a case but will not soak you financially. Hiring the right lawyer is one of the most important decisions you will make in the entire divorce process, so don’t take that responsibility lightly.
Traditionally, once a decision is made to initiate divorce proceedings, the professional of choice to consult with is a family law attorney. As divorce is a legal process, this certainly makes sense. But should the lawyer be the only professional involved?
In cases involving highly complex tax and financial issues, potential fraud or the need to value a business, it is common for attorneys to call on a financial professional (typically a CPA) to assist with the case. However, in the majority of cases that would qualify as “average”, is there a need for a financial planner?
To answer that question, you need to ask yourself a simple question: “Am I confident with my financial future post-divorce?” If yes, you probably don’t need to consult with a planner. But if you are uncertain about how a potential divorce settlement will impact your future, it’s a good idea to get some advice.
So how can a financial planner help? First of all, you should be talking to an individual that specializes in divorce issues. A Certified Financial Planner is not trained specifically in divorce-related tax and financial issues unless he or she obtains additional education in that area. One of the better programs is the Certified Divorce Financial Analyst designation. A professional trained in this area can assist you by providing you information that will allow you to make the best decisions for your future. Some of the areas he or she can help you with are the following:
- Income tax implications with alimony and child support
- Cash flow analysis of various post-divorce scenarios
- Analysis of property settlement options to ensure against tax surprises
- Income tax estimates to properly measure net income after support is paid or received
- Assistance with preparing a realistic post-divorce budget to verify the affordability of proposed support scenarios
- Helping you to determine liquidity needs prior to a property settlement so you don’t end up with the wrong type of assets (i.e. real estate as opposed to retirement funds)
These are just a few examples of how a divorce financial planner can help you make the best decisions before you sign off on an agreement. Regardless of the complexity or net worth of your case, getting answers to these questions will help you avoid potential financial problems down the road.