When a couple decides to end their marriage, they have arrived at an extremely important decision. While that decision is painful and often fraught with fear, resentment and anger, it is just the first in a long line of choices they will make.
There are numerous issues to tackle in a divorce, from property division to child support to pension valuation. Parties to a divorce are tasked with untangling years’ worth of assets, debts, investments, and separate and community property claims in order to reach a final agreement in their matter. Let’s call this the bad news.
Here’s the good news: For every divorce issue that pops up, there is a trained divorce professional that can help couples work through it.
Here is a list of some of the life-savers available during divorce. For referrals to a particular professional, please contact the office at Divorce Mediation Group.
Family Law Attorney – No one is required to hire an attorney in order to obtain a divorce, but many people either retain the services of an attorney to represent them in court as their attorney of record, or they consult with an attorney periodically throughout the divorce process. It is necessary to speak to an attorney in order to obtain legal advice. At Divorce Mediation Group, we urge our mediation clients to consult with a family law attorney for legal advice and to review their agreements before they are filed with the court. There are many fine attorneys in San Diego who are happy to consult with mediation clients and answer their specific legal questions. Those attorneys may also accompany our clients to the mediation session itself.
Family Law Mediator – When a couple chooses to mediate their divorce, one of the first things they must do is choose a mediator. Choosing a mediator is an important decision; that person will guide the parties through often difficult discussions and facilitate their agreements. Mediators have different styles and personalities and oftentimes specialize in specific areas of divorce such as parenting plans, high-conflict matters, or complex financial issues. At Divorce Mediation Group, our intake process includes matching a couple with the mediator who best fits their needs and personalities.
Divorce Coach – Nothing stops mediation in its tracks like a couple who cannot come to the table and have a discussion without lashing out at each other or retreating into silence or tears. A divorce coach provides their clients a way to debrief their trauma, regulate their difficult emotions, and learn how to communicate better with their soon to be ex-spouse. This is not therapy; this is learning the practical skills to better cope with the stress of divorce, because divorce, support and child custody disputes are extremely stressful. These skills are especially useful in mediation or a courtroom setting. The presence of a divorce coach during the mediation session can provide the support needed to keep the parties focused on the task at hand: reaching a full settlement.
Family Court Services (FCS) Prep – When a couple asks the Court to make orders concerning custody of their minor children, part of the legal process involves their meeting with a Family Court Services counselor, who will interview the parents and make a recommendation to the judge concerning a parenting plan. There is a lot riding on this meeting; so in order to be prepared, some people choose to consult with a professional (usually a LCSW or MFT) who specializes in preparing parents for their FCS interview. Consultation sessions include preparation for appointments and guardianship investigations at Family Court Services and private mediation sessions with mental health professionals.
Co-Parenting Specialist – One of the main concerns of couples with minor children who divorce is the relationship they will have with their children after the divorce. The quality of that relationship hinges greatly on the tone of the relationship they have with their ex-spouse. Children of divorce need to feel safe and secure and deserve happy and engaged parents every day; what they do not need are parents who are in constant conflict. Some therapists offer help with co-parenting techniques focusing on reducing the conflict between parents as they negotiate custody issues in divorce or separation and live as co-parents afterward. The co-parenting therapist may demonstrate how to communicate and cope with the other parent, educate on the dynamics of parenting between two homes, and strengthen the parties’ ability to emotionally detach and think clearly.
There are also several excellent online programs designed to alleviate the need for high-conflict parents to communicate directly when scheduling their children’s activities and calendaring their time with their children.
Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) - To best help people in divorce understand how the financial decisions made during their divorce negotiations today will impact their financial future, the services of a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst may be necessary. A CDFA’s background includes training in financial planning, accounting or legal background and may provide expertise related to the financial issues of divorce as part of the divorce team. The CDFA may:
- Identify the short-term and long-term effects of dividing property.
- Determine income available for support.
- Integrate tax issues.
- Analyze pension and retirement plan issues.
- Determine if the client can afford to buy or maintain the family residence – and if not, what might be an affordable alternative.
- Evaluate insurance needs.
- Bring an innovative and creative approach to settling cases.
- Help the parties develop their post-divorce budgets.
Certified Financial Planner (CFP) - The CFP helps people achieve their financial goals after divorce. Once the goals are outlined, the client’s current assets and liabilities are examined and a plan is developed to achieve those goals. Some goals may be short-term, realized within a year; others may be more far-reaching, perhaps into retirement. To project that far into the future, certain assumptions are made concerning income, expenses, inflation rates, interest rates and rates of return on investments, which are reviewed on a regular basis. If during these checkups it is determined that the client’s needs have changed, the CFP can suggest modifications to the plan. The CFP looks at financial results with the future in mind.
Divorce Estate Planning Attorney – In most divorces, the parties no longer want their ex-spouse to be the beneficiary of their estate or want to ensure they do not leave open the possibility that their children may be disinherited due to their ex-spouse remarrying. If their original estate plan was to leave everything to their spouse and then to their children, their ex-spouse may still reap the benefits of that plan if the parties do not modify their estate plans following divorce.
The items below should be amended upon divorce unless one party chooses to leave everything to his or her ex-spouse:
- Beneficiary designations for the following financial instruments:
- Employer retirement plans
- Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA)
- Life insurance
- Health savings accounts (HAS)
- Transfer on Death (TOD) investment accounts
- Payable on Death (POD) bank accounts
- Health care powers of attorney and living wills
- Powers of attorney
- Revocable trusts
- Advanced estate planning structures such as irrevocable trusts
Divorce Real Estate Broker – Engaging a real estate agent broker or agent with experience with the sale of real property as a result of divorce can lessen the stress of selling the family residence. A qualified real estate broker can handle all of the logistics of selling the home and relocating at an extremely emotional time. A divorce sale may involve working with clients who do not live together or who are living together under less than ideal circumstances. Perhaps it is necessary for the agent to communicate with the parties separately or offer assistance in scheduling showings so as not to disrupt a fragile agreement between the parties. The agent may stage the property to minimize the appearance of a “fire sale.” Some real estate agents offer post-divorce services such as space planning and downsizing for their clients who are moving into new, smaller quarters.
Divorce Mortgage Broker – In many divorces, the parties agree that one will buy the other out of the equity in the family residence. It is vital to determine early in the divorce process if the “buyer” will qualify for a mortgage in their name alone, especially if that party plans to borrow additional cash to buy their spouse’s equity. Potential lenders will look to the Marital Settlement Agreement for the agreements concerning spousal and child support for the borrower’s expected support income - or on the flip side, their obligation to pay support - to determine if he or she will be able to afford the new mortgage. A mortgage specialist knowledgeable of the basic tenets of family law surrounding support calculations can be of tremendous help at the beginning of the divorce process, creating support scenarios to ensure the buyer qualifies for a mortgage later on. In mediation in particular, the parties are free to tailor their support agreements to meet the needs of their family. Knowing ahead of time what that support agreement should look like to enable one party to buy out the other is an invaluable tool in preparing for support negotiations.
Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) Preparation – When a couple divorces, they may agree to divide a pension or defined benefit or contribution plan. In that case, a document called a Domestic Relations Order is drafted and then issued by the Court, assigning an alternate payee all or a portion of the employee's retirement benefit. Once the plan administrator has deemed the DRO as “qualified,” the Q is added, making the order a QDRO.
Oftentimes, the parties will enlist someone who specializes in the preparation of QDROs to help them. Most family law attorneys and mediators do not draft QDROs, instead referring their clients to one of these specialists.
Pension Valuation – Pensions and defined benefit or contribution plans are assets in divorce. If either party chooses to trade their interest in a pension for another marital asset, they may elect to hire a firm to value that pension.
Business and Stock Option Valuation - Businesses and stock options are assets in divorce. As with any other asset, they must assigned value in order to determine their worth in negotiating settlement. Many business valuation experts specialize in valuation opinions for divorce and will prepare credible, defensible and easy to understand analysis of financial and complex valuation issues by way of concise reports and/or via expert testimony in court. In mediation, the parties may choose to work with a valuation expert and bring their findings into the session to aid reaching a settlement regarding the division of their assets.
Vocational Evaluation - In divorce or separation it is often necessary to evaluate one party’s wage-earning capacity, job opportunities available, and wage or income potential for purposes of structuring a support scenario. A vocational evaluator will prepare a thorough report containing those findings. Issues considered during the interview include the client’s education, work history, computer skills, medical or physical limitations (if any), return to work goals, and job search efforts. A vocational evaluator may also assess the person being evaluated and research the local labor market utilizing the most current information and resources available to obtain wage earning capacity and employment opportunities.
Parties to divorce do not have to go it alone. There are many, many professionals who can offer advice concerning valuing of assets and strategies for coping with the emotional and financial fallout of divorce. It is important to do the research or ask your attorney or mediator to recommend someone to help you and your spouse get through your divorce as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. The end goal is always to retain as much of the family’s emotional well-being and assets as possible. When the couple flounders and does not receive sound advice, money is wasted on unnecessary litigation and in the end more harm than good is done to families and children.