If you’re contemplating divorce, you’ve probably thought about your personal support network – who you might tell first… who will be your shoulder to cry on… but it is important to take stock of professional resources as well.  Below is a description of some of the key resources available and team-members you may want to assemble.  Before you disclose any sensitive information to any professional, make sure you understand their duty of confidentiality to you, whether they can or will share this information with third parties (including your spouse) and whether they can be compelled to share the information in testimony in Court.  Your attorney can help advise you on this point.

  • Legal Team. Your lawyer will head your legal team but the team may also include paralegals, support staff, expert witnesses, private investigators and/or litigation support vendors.  For more information on hiring a lawyer, see our earlier blog post “I want a shark – how to hire a lawyer.”  Your team may need to include more than one lawyer if you have trust/estate issues, employment law issues or require an expert in a certain area (like dividing military pensions or preparing Qualified Domestic Relations Orders to divide retirement).  At some point you may need an estate planning attorney to revise your will, change medical directives and powers of attorney, update beneficiary designations, etc.
  • Financial Advisor. A financial advisor will be an important part of your divorce team, but beware of using your marital financial advisor.  Your marital financial advisor may have an equal duty to both you and your spouse (which means they may share any information you give them with your spouse) so make sure you are clear on this before you start confiding in your current/marital financial advisor.  For this reason, it may be wise to consider working with a new financial advisor through your divorce.  Your new financial advisor can help you understand your spending history and prospective budget, understand your marital net worth, identify outstanding liabilities, and help with long-term financial planning (for college and/or retirement).  This long-term planning can be invaluable when you are making divorce decisions (whether to keep the home or sell it… whether to agree to pay for college or not… etc.)  A financial planner can also help you manage your credit through divorce or establish credit in your own name.  Once the divorce (or financial settlement) is complete, your financial advisor can help you plan and manage your assets and monthly spending going forward in light of your new financial circumstances.
  • Accountant. An accountant can be an invaluable part of your divorce team – helping you to understand the tax consequences of various settlement proposals regarding the division of assets (what is the “basis” in that asset and what are the tax consequences of you selling it in the future), or how much a proposed alimony award will leave you to live off of (after paying state and federal income tax).  Like with your financial advisor, think carefully about using your marital accountant for this purpose.  Your marital accountant may owe an equal duty to your spouse and may share any information you give him/her with your spouse.  Instead, you may consider getting a new accountant to assist you through the divorce process.  This should be someone who can work closely with your legal team and financial advisor as needed.  (Some financial advisors have an in-house accountant who may be able to help).
  • Physician. If you have a serious medical issue or upcoming surgery or other procedure planned, it is important to understand how the divorce may impact your health insurance coverage and whether you need to make accommodations for major medical
  • Therapist. No matter how calm and confident you feel about divorce being the right choice, there WILL be a lot to process through the divorce.  Your entire life will  These other changes (even more than the dissolution of your marriage) may place huge emotional burdens on you.  Changing relationships may cause paid or confusion.  Some days you may feel empowered and condiment.  Others, you may feel depressed and paralyzed.  A trained counsellor or therapist can help you manage the roller coaster ride that is divorce.  There are also therapists and counsellors that can advise you and your spouse together (on how to co-parent or have a more successful relationship going forward), or who can work with the whole family (including your children).  If you do seek counselling for co-parenting or family counselling you may want a separate therapist to be your personal therapist (so you can ensure confidentiality in your communications).
  • Mediator/Arbitrator. Mediators and Arbitrators are professionals trained in alternative dispute resolution techniques – helping parties reach compromise or settlement outside of court.  There are mediators and arbitrators who specialize in custody and/or divorce.  Your attorney can help you get to the right professional for your case.  The Mediator/Arbitrator will serve as a neutral third party who will help bridge the gap between your position and your spouse’s position to reach a settlement or compromise.  Frequently, information disclosed in mediation is confidential.  Depending on the nature of the mediation/arbitration, you can attend either with or without your attorney.  Discuss with your attorney which approach is appropriate in your case.  Often, you will have the opportunity to submit a written Mediation Statement or Arbitration Statement in advance to “preview” your case and your positions to the professional.
  • Court. Depending on your jurisdiction, your local courthouse may have resources available.   Some Courts have a designated Family Law office or staff and almost all courthouses have written materials available to refer you to local resources.  Many courts have classes available either in-person or online on co-parenting (some of these classes may be mandatory).  Visit your local Circuit Courthouse to access these and other resources.  As an alternative to physically visiting the Courthouse, you can also visit the Courthouse online.  Anne Arundel County Circuit Court has an excellent Family Law site with lots of information about the process.
  • Advocate for your Children. In a custody battle, there may be opportunities to ensure that professionals are in place to assist or advocate for your child.  There are options for a Court-appointed “Best Interest Attorney” or other attorney advocate for your child (you and your spouse may have to pay for this professional out-of-pocket).  There are also options for the Court to appoint a “custody evaluator” or other professional to evaluate the custody situation and recommend what is in the child’s best interest.  Other therapist or counsellor options may also be available.  Discuss with your attorney the pro’s and con’s of having an advocate assigned to your child/children.
  • Other Resources for your Children. In addition to an advocate or therapist/counsellor, there may be “every-day” resources available to assist your child through this difficult time.  For example, you may want to discuss the divorce with a guidance counsellor at your child’s school and/or his teachers so they can pay special attention to your child through this undoubtedly difficult time.  It will be important for the school to understand as the custody situation evolves who has authority to pick up your child and with whom the school should communicate.  Make sure you discuss these issues with your attorney to ensure you are protecting your rights, and not infringing on the rights of your spouse.
  • Appraiser/Valuation Team. You and your spouse may not agree on the value of certain assets and this will likely become important in your case.  There are appraisers available to appraise the value of almost anything (real property, jewelry, cars, artwork, rugs, and ownership interest in a business or entity).  Talk to your lawyer about whether you need to get anything appraised and who should do it.
  • Insurance Agent. You may need to obtain an insurance analysis to determine your need for disability income and life insurance or life insurance on your spouse (for the duration of the time when he/she has financial obligations to you).  You may only be able to take out a life insurance policy on them with his/her consent so this may need to be negotiated up front.
  • Vocational Consultant or Job Placement Professional. Maybe you’ve been out of work for 20 years… is the Court really going to expect you to get a job?  The answer is probably yes (talk to your attorney about the specifics of your case).  You may not know where or how to begin.  A job placement professional or “head-hunter” may be able to help.  A professional vocational consultant may be able to meet with you and generate a report on your earning potential.

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