Need Help Finding the Right Divorce Professional?
Here's a simple guide to understanding what professionals you need on your team.
Posted Apr 21, 2019
Divorce is destabilizing and daunting, to say the least. Part of what makes is so challenging is that, much like what happens during a tornado or an earthquake, your world falls apart around you. When it's happening, you have no idea where you’ll land when the tremors or winds stop.
Once you emerge after the chaos, you have to try to make sense of what happened. Simultaneously, you also have to contend with figuring out your future.
It can feel overwhelming and most people don't even know where to even begin the process of getting the help they need.
Unfortunately, as common as divorce is, there is no one obvious path through or roadmap because each couple has their own personal circumstances to contend with. Some folks will have to focus on finding a new home, some on handling money matters, and others on making sure the kids are okay. Some will come to divorce after suffering for years; some will break up suddenly.
That said, with the exception of a very few people, everyone will have to hire some type of professional to help them through the process. Given that I've watched people struggle with this aspect (and far too often, hire the wrong professionals), I’ve created a very basic guide to help you find the right person for your situation. I will focus on the three main areas of need: legal, financial and emotional.
LEGAL DIVORCE PROFESSIONALS:
Finding a divorce attorney is easy. Finding the right attorney is the trick.
If you do a Google or Yahoo search for "family lawyer" and your geographic area, you will likely see that there's no shortage of them (unless you live in a remote area). Picking an attorney from the many names can feel like throwing a dart and seeing where it lands. It might occur to you that going with a complete unknown for something as impactful as a divorce makes no sense. Your next thought might be, "Why not call _____________ (neighbor, cousin, sister or best-friend) who got divorced last year and ask for their attorney's name and number?"
Although this feels like it makes sense in that using someone "known" (only because someone you know knows him or her), this is the wrong thing you can do, (and truthfully, not all that different from picking someone out of an internet search).
Here's why: If you begin by looking for the attorney first, you will end up with the modality your attorney practices, and it's possible that his or her modality won't be right for your case.
A few years ago, a colleague of mine going through divorce hired an attorney who, it turned out, was known as one of the toughest litigators in the county. When her husband heard who would be representing her, he went out and hired another aggressive attorney. As a result, their case was much more contentious (and expensive) than it needed to be given that they weren't arguing over much and had no children together.
You can certainly ask others whom they hired and if they were happy with their choice, but you need to ask more questions than that, such as "What were the core issues of your case?" "How knowledgeable was your attorney about finances or dealing with one of you being a solopreneur," for example. Also, how was your attorney to work with? Did they call you back right away, did they have an even temper, were they aggressive or reserved?
Where to Start in Choosing an Attorney
The place to start is to spend some time researching the various ways you can get divorced, decide which model is best for you and then find an attorney who practices the model you choose.
Modalities include: self-representation, mediation, integrative mediation*, collaborative and litigation.
More things to consider: What does the attorney say they specialize in? What kind of temperament do they have (and does this bring out the best in me AND my spouse)? What is their reputation like (you can sometimes find reviews online)?
If my colleague had asked even a few of these questions, she undoubtedly would have made a different choice.
FINANCIAL DIVORCE PROFESSIONALS:
There are different types of financial professionals. When searching for the right one, there are some important things to keep in mind (please remember that these definitions are general and that specific terms for each of these areas may vary depending on where you live—that's part of why it can be confusing!).
A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is the person who advises you on tax matters and who can help you file your tax returns.
A Financial Planner or Financial Advisor is someone who can help you invest in and maintain investments. This professional can help you project into the future and decide which investments make sense for you and your family.
A Financial Counselor or Money Coach is a professional who can help you manage your daily, monthly and annual household (or business budgets). This person is trained in the numbers but he or she is also quite adept at understanding the emotions behind money behaviors. A good Financial Counselor will gently help you create better spending habits and have a better relationship overall with money.
A Bookkeeper is the person who can keep track of your numbers for you. They may simply track your income and outflow but they may also cut paychecks for people and help you manage paying bills.
A Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) is someone who guides you through the divorce process. He or she can help you make sense of your current financials. They can also create projections of monetary scenarios so that you understand what you’ll need through the divorce process in order to land on your feet financially.
A Forensic Accountant is the man or woman you hire in a divorce when you can’t make sense of past spending, when you fear there is money unaccounted for, when you don’t trust your spouse is being honest, or when you are seeking reimbursement for money that has been comingled but is traceable.
You will more than likely need more than one kind of professional and often your attorney can help you figure out which financial professional to retain.
MENTAL HEALTH DIVORCE PROFESSIONALS:
As with attorneys, I don’t recommend that you rely on a friend’s recommendation alone when seeking out a mental health professional to help you through your divorce.
Unfortunately, there is a paucity of information for therapists on divorce (this makes no sense to me because divorce is such a common event that is often one of the most destabilizing—but I’ll save the soapbox!). What this means for you, the consumer, is that if you go to just any therapist, you run the risk of finding someone who has a bias against divorce, or who doesn't know how to help you.
I can’t tell you how many people have told me they have been shamed by their therapist who told them they didn’t try hard enough to make the marriage work, for example, or who tries to keep a couple together when they are clear they want to go their separate ways.
Perhaps not quite as damaging as a shamer is the therapist who knows absolutely nothing about divorce. While they may not tell you that you are doing something wrong, they may not help you as much as they could.
A knowledgeable therapist will not only listen to your heartache, fear, anger, etc., he or she will help guide you through the process by providing you with information and resources. If you have a therapist you like but who knows little about divorce, there are courses for professionals* they can take to become more knowledgeable.
A therapist specializing in divorce may even have support groups to offer. A group can be invaluable in knowing you are not alone (at a time when you may feel pushed out and marginalized by friends in particular and society in general) and creating a new support network.
How Many Professionals Do I Need?
In a typical divorce, most people will use two or three different professionals. I tell people they will most likely need a team. This can get expensive and may not be practical for everyone, but it is ideal.
Check your local resources for low fee legal and financial services as well as mental health agencies offering sliding scale. The trick is to get the RIGHT professional, not the least expensive whenever possible. The reason being, you may end up spending more (or leaving assets on the table therefore losing money) if you don't have knowledgeable, competent professionals.
Divorce professionals in general may not be hard to find, but the right professionals for your case may be. Research which divorce modality you want to use first, hire professionals second.
Don't be afraid to interview each professional and ask him or her pointed questions about how they would handle your case. Make sure they are knowledgeable and a good fit personality-wise. Remember that these people work for you so if you need something from them, let them know. If something's not working with them, let them go.
* For information on divorce courses for therapists, contact R. Cassidy Seminars. I can also help you find some resources for therapists so visit my bio for contact info.