Divorce support: Don’t do it alone
By Margot Swann
Don’t do it alone! You will fare much better in your divorce if you use a team approach.
It can be terrifying and victimizing to be caught in the pressure cooker of the divorce process. Most of us have never even been involved with an attorney prior to divorce. It’s easy to make mistakes – mistakes that may badly blight our future.
One of the most common mistakes is the perception that our divorce attorney is going to be our “white knight” or our best friend – someone who is as concerned and involved with our divorce challenges as we are.
The reality is that your divorce attorney is probably working several other cases along with yours. He or she has numerous tight deadlines, many other challenges, and a life outside the office. And he or she doesn’t have to understand your feelings or empathize with your situation to do a good job for you. In fact, your divorce attorney can serve you better if just given the concise facts of your case, together with a clear list of your personal priorities. The attorney’s job is the legal piece. Your attorney knows the law, the judges, the process, precedent, and how to litigate in the courtroom. Most attorneys, however, are uncomfortable with strong emotions, tears, and hand holding – those emotions often lead to disconnection, frustration, and high legal bills.
We recommend that you create a healthy emotional support system. This can consist of stable friends, family, support groups, a church or synagogue, and a good therapist. Having your own therapist during this most traumatic and challenging time is a must. This professional is the empathetic sounding board who will help you divide the emotions surrounding the loss of a dream from the business of the divorce. When you have accomplished this perspective, you will find that you will navigate more rationally and effectively amidst the divorce chaos, and you will make better decisions for your future.
Another member of your divorce team should be a financial expert. Most divorce settlements come down to money and child custody. A financial expert can identify the assets that are subject to division and help you craft a customized, workable distribution. There are numerous types of financial experts whose expertise might be helpful in helping you and your attorney. Usually, you will only need to work directly with one financial expert during your divorce and should choose that expert based on your specific situation and needs.
A tax CPA can, for instance, give you an idea of the tax effect of your decisions, now and for the future. There are creative ways to look at this aspect of the financial piece which will involve less being paid to the IRS and more staying in your individual pockets.
An investment advisor is the most familiar with retirement plans, stock options, and investment portfolios. Your understanding of these assets will help in making decisions about them, both during the divorce and in the future.
A forensic accountant can untangle a complex web of marital and non marital assets. This expert can often also trace hidden assets.
A financial planner sees an overall picture. This expert can take a snapshot of your financial situation as a married couple and work with you to structure a fair financial settlement, as well as a financial plan for your post divorce future. Some financial planners have received specialized training in divorce matters and are probably better suited to help you than those who do not specialize in the field.
These experts usually cost much less per hour than your attorney. They work day in and day out with money and are therefore better prepared to assess and suggest as your money is divided. In my particular situation a financial expert proposed an asset solution that my attorney rejected – because he didn’t understand it. When I asked him to take the proposal to someone in his firm who had financial expertise, that person told us that the idea was ingenious!
An insurance expert is another member of your team. This expert can advise you about which of the two of you (you or your spouse) should seek your own automobile policy and who should retain the existing coverage. An insurance expert can also suggest how best to handle COBRA, medical insurance, life insurance to cover alimony and child support, and homeowners or rental insurance.
Remember though it may sound expensive to retain several experts for your team, many do not charge a fee and almost any one is much less expensive than your attorney. Learning from these professionals is empowering.
An additional necessary part of your team, if you have children, is someone to help the children process the divorce – a children’s counselor. Face it – you are undergoing one of life’s most stressful traumas. This means that you can’t possibly be able to address the emotional neediness of your children. They need their own support system – a safe place for them to air their anger and fears. Much depends on the age of the children as to where you find this help for them. It may be that their own therapist is appropriate or possibly a support group like Rainbows might be the answer.
Adolescents and teens will probably tell you they do not need this help – don’t believe them! Because they have the least parental supervision and the most opportunity to damage themselves, do not succumb to their resistance. The teen temptation to get involved in drugs and sex to assuage their pain is powerful. Tell them that therapy during divorce transition is not optional. You have a counselor and so must they.
If you have children, please don’t neglect this very important part of the team. If money is a problem remember that many organizations and therapists offer sliding scale fees and other choices.
Another professional that you might want to visit is a career counselor. If you have been under-employed or not in the workforce for a while, this expert can be a great help in finding fulfilling work.
Ultimately you need a fair settlement, a peaceful heart, good work, and happy children. Gathering the right group of professionals will give you a better chance of achieving all of this, save you money, and empower you to create and achieve a new vision for your life. Don’t do it alone. You can be the CEO of your divorce and your future!
Margot Swann is the Director of Visions Anew Institute in Marietta, GA. Like most of the professionals in her team, she has herself experienced the trauma of divorce. She brings her skills as a business owner, columnist, divorce support facilitator, Stephen Minister, and radio and television commentator. See website.