By Karen J. Levitt and Susan Miller
Part III of III – By Karen J. Levitt
Next Steps: How Do You Actually Work With a Financial Neutral in Divorce Mediation?
In the first two parts of this series, we have talked about why you might want to work with a financial neutral in mediation, and what they do. In part three, we will discuss the next steps once you have decided to work with a financial neutral.
Next steps include:
- Identify the financial professional with the help of your attorney or mediator.
- Determine the issues that you want the financial professional to address.
- Have an introductory meeting with the financial professional to understand their process and cost, and to ensure that they understand what it is that you are asking them to do so that the engagement is clear and limited to the tasks required.
- Determine how communications will go forward – will you, or you and your spouse, be meeting with the financial professional, and with or without counsel, or will the financial professional be working more directly with the attorneys or mediator?
- Will it be necessary for the financial professional to attend any settlement negotiations and will that be helpful in shortcutting the issues and making decisions?
- What are you expecting to get from the financial professional and what can they provide? Make sure in introductory meetings those expectations are clear in both directions.
- If you are already financially savvy, understand that your spouse may not be, and the use of a financial professional may help them get up to speed and level the playing field which reduces mistrust and usually results in better negotiations and quicker settlement.
The financial neutral will maintain communications with you and the mediator, and with your counsel if you are in attorney-assisted mediation. The financial neutral provides guidance and input in actual negotiations as needed. The preparation done by the parties and the financial neutral regarding finances, provides the foundation for identification of issues and settlement options. Financial neutrals can help create trust and safety around financial discussions and make negotiations easier.
When getting divorced, taking one household and dividing it into two with no more income or assets, begs the question of how best to do that financially in an equitable and responsible manner as to support and asset division. While counsel provides legal advice, financial neutrals can fill in the financial landscape – and everyone working together in a focused and efficient fashion brings quicker resolution and better outcomes.
Explore with your mediator whether using a financial neutral in your mediation will be beneficial. “Count the ways” in which the use of a financial neutral can mean more education about financial issues in divorce, help create more options for discussion about finances, result in fewer legal fees, and ultimately provide the resources and tools for a more direct path to agreement.
Susan Miller, CPA, CFP, CDFA is The Managing Director of Dispute Resolution and Senior Wealth Advisor with The Colony Group, Wellesley, MA, and is a well-respected financial neutral in mediation, Collaborative Law and litigation.