This divorce did not have to be 4 years in the making. Nor did it have to consume $500,000 of the marital estate.
We read the back and forth communications over the 4 years. We also reviewed the financial information, among other issues in the divorce. We were asked by our client to find the complexity that consumed 4 years of her life with stress, aggravation and lots of money. In our review her divorce did not appear complex. In fact it was relatively simple to resolve. From our perspective, the couple’s financial life was relatively straight forward. The required parenting plan was not difficult either.
As we dove into the process one question, among many, on the table that was unresolved was how much is the marital estate worth? No one could put a number on it. Our client shared with us that her attorneys were expecting her, a stay-at-home Mom for over 10 years, to tell them the value of the marital estate. She needed someone to hold her hand through the process and move through a logical, financial profiling and analysis process. Our client realized after the fact that you need the right people doing a specific work process at specific points in time in the process. She later realized her attorneys are trained in the legal aspects of divorce, not the financial aspects of divorce. Unfortunately, a relatively straight forward divorce process became an elongated legal battle as they were debating issues that were not clearly defined up front.
It’s important to define the marital estate at the beginning of the process
Every divorce process should start with a clear definition of the marital estate. In most situations it is undefined from the outset, yet needs to be clearly defined to make quick and meaningful progress through the process. Without this mental framework, divorces drag on. Our client needed context, supported by solid evidence, to establish her financial expectations. She needed us to provide clear financial guidance, educate her, evaluate her risk-reward tradeoffs and function as if we were in her shoes every step of the way throughout the process.
She didn’t know how much she should expect to receive from her divorce. She could not clearly define her financial needs either. Among other matters, no one involved in the process was clear how to design a settlement structure that was fair, equitable and made financial sense to bring the parties together verses moving them further apart.
The right skills working on the right issues at the right points in time
When we were introduced, the divorce was headed toward a trial that could have been avoided. Our client was mentally exhausted from the process, ready to give up and very confused. She saw herself having all of this hard core, non-financial evidence that should strengthen her negotiating position. Yet, she found herself in a very weak negotiating spot. Some introspective questions she asked herself, in hindsight, were:
- Did she have the right skills working on the right issues at the right points in time throughout the process?
- Did she make a mistake having her attorneys who are not formerly trained in financial matters work on and negotiate the financial aspects of her divorce?
- Was the process, as designed, helping her manage her financial negotiating position or not?
- Was the information she gathered properly translated into compelling evidence and intelligence to help her win her case?
Your financial negotiating position. It is important to manage it.
When we met her we asked whether anyone was tightly managing her negotiating position. We know this is a critical element to the process. It would provide her security, peace of mind and the financial outcomes she needed. When we asked the question, she understood what we were asking. Yet, at the same time, she was surprised by the question; no one had asked her that question before. She didn’t think that was something she had to worry about. After she thought about where she was at she figured out that she needed help. Later in the process she shared with us that she realized everything (i.e. every process) is a separate skill in life that needs to be developed and shaped over time.
When we were engaged to help we evaluated all of the financial documentation collected to date. Unfortunately much of the information already collected did not help frame the financial situation properly. With an impending trial date we were behind the eight ball. Furthermore the ‘legal discovery period’ had already closed. This prevented us from asking for more information from the opposing party to help us fill in the rest of the financial picture. This just made things more difficult, yet not impossible to arrive at a reasonably clear decision.
Divorce architects go beyond analysis and uncover missing financial pieces.
Our first step was to review the available information and create a marital estate. As we dug into the details we saw a lot of missing pieces. We had to spend time figuring out where the holes were in the financial profile and determine how to fill them in, quickly. Our financial investigative work along with our analytical minds allowed us to see what did not exist, yet should have existed.
When you are trained as a financial architect, issues become clear from the outset. Numbers can and do have a relationship to each other. If certain ratios or numbers do not make sense we know that something is not right. The financial architecture along with our financial analytics drive our financial communications throughout the financial conflict resolution process. The pieces of the puzzle are supposed to fit together in a certain way just like a house cannot be built without a solid foundation.
Given the situation, we had to back into the numbers. We had to figure out what the numbers should have looked like (you can call it creating compelling evidence) if everyone was fair, honest and maintained integrity throughout the process.
As we analyzed the situation, we determined the unallocated support she received over a 4 year period was significantly underfunded. The husband’s income was growing year over year, yet he pocketed much of his earnings through a separate personal account. Later to cover up his trails, he funneled significant amounts of money to other personal accounts. These accounts were initially excluded from his marital estate. This was just the beginning of our analysis work which uncovered many other issues beyond the scope of this article.
When all was said and done, our work was about 15 days of focused activity with approximately 45 days of total elapsed time. This included discussions with the attorney, providing divorce coaching to our client, managing all of the financial aspects of the divorce, among other issues that arose. With the evidence we compiled, our client was able to obtain more than 150% in total unallocated support as compared to the offer originally made by her husband. Furthermore, we provided coaching to recover monies that were wrongfully drained from the marital estate.
To us, every life matters. This was someone who went through much verbal abuse in her marriage and through her divorce process. The verbal abuse included threats and other types of abuse to family members that she did not want to experience in her life. The abusive behavior she had to endure during the divorce process added to her memories she already had from her marriage. We see these situations can be avoided if you use the right people, process, technologies and information (analytics) to help you gain insight and manage your divorce risks. We call these components (people, process, technology and information) our execution framework. It helps us bring a divorce to an efficient and successful closing so the parties can move onto new chapters while time is still on their side.
About the Author
Larry Smith is a Founding Partner of Divorce Outcomes, a specialized professional services firm that manages all of the financial aspects in a divorce process. Since 2003 he has worked as a trusted financial advisor, financial advocate, divorce architect and technical financial expert; he is not an attorney. He is an alumni of KPMG and Andersen with expertise in technical accounting, forensics, sophisticated taxation, management consulting, risk management, advanced process engineering, business combinations, divorce management, multi-party negotiations, advanced quality analytics and cognitive performance technologies. Since 1986 Larry has been advising individuals and organizations about innovative financial solutions to resolve complex financial challenges that arise in life and in business.
For both personal and business divorces, Larry is considered an expert in divorce strategies, divorce process management, financial divorce architecture, financial risk management, taxation for divorces, financial divorce forensics, advanced divorce analytics, financial divorce negotiations and mediation, business valuations and sophisticated equity structures. He helps clients shape complex financial decisions, manage communication risks and ever-changing negotiating positions to strategically preserve or grow wealth from these types of transactions.
If You Have a Question
If you have a question, feel free to contact me at [email protected] or 617-680-5222. The call is free. I will spend 30–60 minutes with you. I will provide you an honest assessment as to where I think you are positioned in your divorce process or answer any questions you have. I may provide you some guidance, insight or advice that you can take with you as you wish. There is no obligation to move forward. The phone call is designed to ease your fears, provide you some options to pursue and a potential road to run on that can lead you down a path to achieve a successful outcome.
About Divorce Outcomes
Divorce Outcomes is a specialty services firm that helps people both domestically and internationally manage all of the financial decisions that arise in their divorce process. We are not attorneys. We are financial experts who partner with our clients as their personal financial advocates. We help our clients manage their divorce process, uncover hidden financial risks, architect divorce solutions, manage ever-changing negotiating positions, communicate complex financial matters and close the divorce process as soon as possible with a goal to arrive at the best outcomes possible. Throughout the process we evaluate the current state of our clients’ financial lives with an objective to best reposition their future. We do not sell any products. We simply raise issues that are in our clients best interest. Our clients share with us we:
- unfold, analyze and repackage their financial life so they are well positioned after their divorce
- preserve the value of their business or marital estate
- continuously strive to provide a return on our services
- build balanced financial solutions grounded in evidence
- find ways to make our client, and at times both parties, money through the process
- design their divorce to work for them and their family’s life
- provide mental clarity to make decisions
- reduce the total process time from start to close
- minimize the stress and unpleasant memories that can last a lifetime
As we reach an agreed upon settlement structure, we help our clients identify a fitting attorney who can leverage the financial solution to draft and record the requisite legal documents. Where outcomes are at risk from a traditional process, we function as expert financial negotiators or financial mediators to turn around the situation and achieve our client’s desired outcomes.
This communication is for general informational purposes only which may or may not reflect the most current developments. It is not intended to constitute formal advice or a recommended course of action as every person’s situation is unique and different. The information here is not intended to be, and should not be, relied upon by the recipient to make a decision without professional guidance.