Divorcing on a Budget – Is it Possible?
Divorce is expensive.
If you were asked to summarize the costs that your next client would pay for total services rendered, you would be able to come up with an estimate (or at the very least a general range) without too much trouble. However, if you were asked you to do the same for another FDR professional not within your area of expertise this estimate would be more difficult for you to complete.
Think about costs for a moment – about all the plethora of fees for services that any one client is paying over the course of their divorce: legal bills, ADR fees, valuations, co-parenting support, therapy sessions, coaching services, moving costs. Then consider the strain placed upon the finances of co-parents as they begin equalizing property, paying child and spousal support, paying for two residences on the same total income which was previously supporting only one home. Factor in lost income due to sudden increased childcare, emotional stress, or having been out of the workforce for any length of time.
The financial impact of separation and divorce is astonishing when you consider the whole – and the above list is hardly exhaustive.
So what can we do as FDR professionals to ease our clients’ financial burden as they navigate the arduous processes of separation and divorce?
- Be aware
The simplest in concept, though more complex in practice is being aware of the financial difficulties our clients are undergoing. Regardless of socio-economic status, experiencing separation impacts an individual’s finances and requires an adjustment of lifestyle. And children who are old enough to understand social status are often very affected by these changes. Just as we strive to be sensitive toward clients’ emotional struggles, we as service providers can strive to show empathy when discussing matters of a financial nature.
- Support financial literacy
Even as we enter the year 2020, it is not uncommon for clients to come out of a relationship in mid-adulthood without a rudimentary understanding of personal financial management. They may struggle to compile and decipher the documents that comprise their own financial disclosure or perhaps they struggle in understanding the impact of their spending habits. Whether this lack of financial prowess is due to a discomfort with arithmetic analysis or is the result of an agreed upon division of familial roles, emerging from these relationships provides a new opportunity and perhaps even more so, a need to build a new skill set, bit by bit.
Whether supporting your clients in understanding the world of personal finance is within your typical service set or not, I encourage you to connect with those who do. Build a list of books, websites and colleagues that can assist your clients in working through their financial concerns without being overwhelmed.
- Encourage clients to budget
At a time when clients are facing so much change and uncertainty, I find that many welcome the implementation of tools that offer them a sense of structure and dependability. Being able to lay out their income sources against their expenses is an eye-opening experience and one which offers them a measure of control in working with their professional support team. Knowing that they have “x” funds available for any given service allows them to make informed decisions and plan accordingly. As a service provider, you have the opportunity to then go the extra mile and inquire during the intake process about clients’ financial flexibility, displaying to the client that you value their financial framework.
- Prep clients for peak performance
When you look shrewdly at the figures behind the invoices you provide, what portion of those fees are being paid for working within your primary skill set? Are you a lawyer who finds yourself repeatedly defining basic legal terms for clients, a mediator whose sessions are spent requesting elusive financial statements or perhaps a financial adviser clocking time listening to clients emote? Wouldn’t it be nice to have clients who come prepared so that you can focus on the tasks at which you excel?
In my coaching practice, I focus on training clients to work efficiently and effectively with their separation support team. I begin by ensuring that the professionals they hire are aligned with their own specific needs and circumstances. Clients are assisted in building organizational systems for the emails and documents that can quickly add up, as well as implementing infrastructure with which to log relevant interactions with their former partner. My goal is to guide them in learning to compartmentalize the emotional impact of their separation so that they are able to approach meetings pragmatically, with relevant questions, information and research in hand. These skills lead to articulate, organized clients and concise, effective and informed meetings, meaning less fees incurred for menial tasks. It’s a win-win for both the service provider as well as the client.
- Provide financial efficiency
If a client were to approach you today, making mention of limited available funds, which aspects of your services would you recommend prioritizing? Are there aspects of the job that the client could complete themselves in order to mitigate fees incurred? As we witness the increasing popularity of the legal sector’s limited scope retainers and unbundled service options, it is worth considering how you might integrate similar offerings into your own practice. Go back to those areas of priority that we just discussed and consider marketing them as standalone services – you may just discover a new niche clientele.
- Refer to the best pro for the job
As professionals, we rely on a system of reciprocal referrals in order to both grow our practices and to connect clients with helpful colleagues. What if we went the extra mile to provide quality suggestions? When networking, I encourage you to inquire regarding your colleagues’ hourly rates and their sensitivities toward fee adjustments, as well as whether they accept insurance. Get to know their areas of particular expertise in order to offer clients a few relevant options. You can keep a spreadsheet with this information in order to have it handy, particularly for the niche services about which you are asked less often.
- Educate regarding FDR
If you are reading this publication, you likely already know of the financial benefits to utilizing alternative dispute resolution processes as a means for resolving separation related conflicts. Former partners and co-parents who are able to part on peaceful terms not only save the significant legal fees typically incurred during litigation but also find themselves saving in the long-run as they become adept at working through disagreements that arise in the future.
The investment they put into the initial building of their divorce toolbox will pay dividends for years to come. The rise of coaching services within the FDR field has created a whole new set of educators, ready to equip their clients with beneficial skill-sets. Divorce coaches and all of their derivatives, whether specializing in conflict resolution, finance, law or co-parenting generally charge less than these same specialists may when wearing their “adviser” hat and work with the goal in mind that clients should learn to succeed independently of their ongoing support.
- Support self-care
One of the great struggles that clients grapple with after separation is finding healthy ways to heal. Borne of a desire to calm their surging emotions, there are those who attempt to quiet the pain with material salves. This may be as explicit as overspending or a secondary detriment to any number of addictive habits. Antithetically, others who are cognizant of financial hardship may become overly frugal, denying themselves or their children items and supports for which they have great need.
In the shadow of familial breakdown, when so many aspects of a person’s life undergo such change, self-care is all the more important. You can suggest that clients explore means of self-care that require little to no financial investment. If they seem run down, check in and ask whether they are sleeping well, maintaining nutritious dietary habits, exercising, journalling, meditating or practicing mindfulness. Encourage clients to check in with their family doctor, many of whom offer psychotherapeutic services that are covered by OHIP, to notify them of their recent separation.
The neglect of self-care can ultimately lead to costly complications down the road. We cannot place a monetary figure upon caring for one’s health.
- Build your own resource library
As professionals, we all have our go-to resources that we reach for time and again; whether books or websites, agencies or otherwise, that focus on legal principles, financial management, parenting, mental health or domestic violence. When our clients find themselves facing separation, they have most often never been down this road before and need all the help they can get. We can all offer them valuable support by listing our go-to resources on a page within our website or a printout as part of one’s welcome packet. Time saved is money saved and your clients will surely thank you for the gesture.
- Keep charity organizations’ numbers handy
While we may not all come across low-income clients on a daily basis, the single-parent population in Ontario is facing more difficulty today than ever before, between Legal Aid cuts and economic instability. When you hear of a charity organization that may be of benefit to a client, whether directly or peripherally, note it down. Community housing resources, shelters, scholarship funds, soup-kitchens and second-hand shops are but a few of the offerings that are worth adding to the resource list we mentioned above.
As FDR providers, we recognize that we work with clients of varying socio-economic status, some with more financial security and others with less. In the list above, I offer a wide array of suggestions. My aim in compiling this list was to offer creative options in order to benefit the collective client as well as professional FDR body.
If you have further suggestions or practices that you employ in order to support your clients’ financial needs, I would love to hear from you.
Devorah Jonas is a Toronto based family mediator, divorce coach and certified divorce financial analyst whose practice is devoted to helping men and women achieve peace throughout the divorce process and beyond, whether in their co-parenting relationship, within themselves, or in supporting their children through this time of transition. She is FDRIO’s coaching section chair. Devorah can be contacted at devorah@choicemediationandcoaching or through her website www.choicemediationandcoaching.com.