Whether you’ve chosen the path, or been blindsided by the decision, no one needs to tell you that getting a divorce can consume you – both emotionally and financially, and that because divorce is so complicated, you must often rely on experts. But it is also possible that you may be finding that the experts you work with, or are considering to hire, are all too often focused on what they do (and bill you for) and not what your needs are. If you are feeling a disconnect, take heart! It’s normal. Divorce is a particular life event that is uniquely personal. There is no magic formula or infallible model (despite what some experts might say, or what your friends might advise you) that will transform you to a place of financial independence, balance, and full healing. It’s a process specific to you. And for women, it often involves an education in learning how to take control of your life.
Understanding and taking control of one’s finances is just one aspect to the process, but it is a very important one. After all, it’s the money and the kids (–if you are a mother) that probably have you the most uncertain and wondering what your next best steps are. Finding a good accountant (and not relying on the one you may have used with your mate) is a very good idea. But how do you proceed to choose an accountant so you set yourself up for your next best chapter?
If you are getting a divorce, or in the divorce recovery phase, here are five things your accountant should do for you as you begin to rebuild your life:
One of the most critical skills your accountant (–and any expert you hire) must have is the ability to really listen to you and your story. Without truly listening to you, any advice given won’t be tied to your individual needs. There is no one size fits all. You must be able to sit down and feel that you connection and be able to communicate with your accountant on many levels. Think about this as you are interviewing or considering an accountant, would you feel comfortable calling this person out of the blue with a random question?
2. Understand your needs (financial, emotional and social)
Tax, accounting, and financial advice must be seen through the prism of your life. Your financial needs and requirements may not only include the fundamentals like caring for the children and maintaining a home but may also include continuing assistance for … your going back to school, or caring for your aging parents, or organizations or charities and other philanthropic organizations you are involved with. Your emotional, career, and social needs must be supported by the financial advice you are given. The three are tied together like a bow. Without understanding your emotional and social needs the financial advice you are given can do more harm than good.
3. Help you plan the process
After listening to and understanding your individual needs, your accountant should now be able to provide you with several scenarios to consider as you plan out the divorce process or begin the restructuring post-divorce. There are many year-end tax planning checklists as well as guides on how to hire the right lawyer, forensic expert, etc., online. You could literally spend hours and hours searching for that information. That is not your job. Your job is to ask questions of your accountant or financial advisor, and then make the decisions that are right for you. Your accountant’s job is to take complex issues and problems and help you find the solutions that fit your needs. S/he must also be capable of explaining your choices in layman’s terms. If you don’t understand what your accountant is saying then the fault is on them, not you. Your accountant works for you and not the other way around.
4. Be your trusted (and tough) advisor
Your accountant must also play the role of “Tough Advisor”. You will have your own ideas about the divorce process, or what to do now that you are single, and your ideas matter greatly and should influence your accountant’s advice. But there does come times when your accountant should be confident enough to disagree with your decisions and be able to provide a rational argument to you. While ultimately the decision on your plan and finances will always be yours, your accountant should take the time to advise you on any concerns s/he has.
5. Be your “Financial General Contractor” for those providing other services to you
Once you and your accountant have established a relationship based on the previous four requirements then your accountant can play one of the most critical roles in your divorce process or divorce recovery: what I like to call the “Financial General Contractor”. Depending on your situation you may have many people assisting you with and impacting your divorce and future plans. Lawyers, coaches, forensic accountants, real estate agents, the IRS, etc., all may play a role. But just like building a house, or hiring a divorce coach who can help you understand, oversee, and guide the moving parts, you need a Financial General Contractor to turn to who can help coordinate the money in play and help control everyone’s fees. Your accountant may the best suited to assist you with this financial control. Besides your divorce coach (if you have one), your trusted accountant may have the broadest view of all your needs. Your accountant can also play the “bad girl/guy” role if need be with the rest of your divorce team if the results and fees are not in your best interests.
As an accountant with over 20 years of experience I have been on the other side of the desk (–though I prefer the kitchen table), listening to my clients as they have gone through the difficult process of getting a divorce. What I discovered was that the single most important thing for my clients was the ability to feel connected to the people who are helping though this hard time. My goal in writing this article was not to give you specific advice on what to do with your divorce, or which model to adopt in getting a divorce, or even to tell you what to do with your money. It was simply to provide guidance on how to select an accountant who can best help you begin or continue on your divorce journey. As the ladies at SAS say, there’s a great big bright future for you just around the bend. You may not see it yet, but it’s there and it’s waiting for you.
Vincent Pungello, CPA, CISA, CFSA is a Certified Public Accountant and the Managing Member of Pungello CPA, LLC. Vincent has extensive experience in matters of personal and business taxation, forensic accounting as well as domestic and international accounting and auditing. If you would like to talk to Vincent to share what is happening in your journey and to hear possible next steps, he provides all SAS readers with a free consultation by phone. Contact him at (732) 814 7480 or email him at [email protected] and mention SAS to begin your conversation about your needs and where YOU want to go.