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Financial consultation for a divorce

Smart Moves for Women: A Financial Consultation for a Divorce

When considering divorce, or before responding to a spouse’s request for divorce, most women know it is smart to consult with a divorce attorney to learn about their rights and entitlements. But few women realize it is equally important to pursue a financial consultation for divorce with an experienced financial advisor. Who is a good financial advisor? It’s not the one you and your spouse have been using (unless s/he is more in your pocket than your spouse’s.) This new advisor should be someone who really listens to you and your concerns as a woman, has at least 10 years of experience, and (most importantly) understands how divorce impacts your money. For this reason, you may wish to cut to the chase and consult with an advisor who holds the certified divorce financial analyst® (CDFA®) designation.

Marital finances are often complicated. If any of the following situations apply to you, you may want to consult with a CDFA even before you consult with an attorney:

  • You wonder if the income that supported one household could stretch to support two;
  • You or your spouse purchased the family home before marriage;
  • The marital estate includes multiple assets such as real estate, stocks/bonds/funds, retirement accounts, pensions, cryptocurrency or private equity;
  • You or your spouse receives equity compensation such as restricted stock units (RSUs) or stock options; or
  • You or your spouse is self-employed or owns a business.

Women Not Confident in Their Financial Knowledge Often Pay More in Legal Fees

We don’t need Sherlock Holmes to discover for us that many experienced divorce attorneys charge high hourly rates. Martindale-Nolo surveyed attorneys and consumers in both 2015 and 2019 and concluded that the cost of divorce was influenced primarily by the attorney’s hourly rate and the number of hours the attorney spent on the divorce case. According to the survey, on average, divorce attorneys charge between $300 and $365 per hour in California and $305 and $380 in New York. 

I work with women across the country, especially with clients in California, and many of them choose attorneys who are certified as family law specialists. These specialists charge between $350 and $575 per hour. Top family law litigators charge even more. 

Your lawyer serves a critical role, whether he or she is advising you as a consulting attorney during mediation with a neutral third party, or representing you from start to finish with respect to your case. But paying a lawyer by the hour to increase your knowledge on the financial aspects of divorce will result in unnecessarily high bills. This is not the best use of your money.

It makes a lot of sense to choose the right tool for the task, especially when that tool is less expensive. Most CDFAs charge rates that are 30% to 50% lower than the rates attorneys charge in their markets. So, if you want to learn how retirement accounts and pensions are divided, whether or not you can afford to stay in your house (or qualify to refinance the mortgage in your own name), how to negotiate a fair division of assets, and what you need to do to ensure long-term finances, then I recommend you arrange a consultation with a smart money person or a certified divorce financial planner.  

A CDFA Helps You Avoid Costly Mistakes

CDFAs are financial professionals who understand your budget. We look for ways to ensure we add value so your investment in time and money pays off. We help you evaluate settlement proposals before you get to the final, divorce financial settlement. Putting in the work in advance will help you avoid mistakes that could prove costly down the road. 

One of the most common mistakes women make is agreeing to a division of assets that might look fair today—but results in a less-than-equal division in the future because they did not consider after-tax values.

If child support and/or alimony (sometimes referred to as “spousal support” or “maintenance” depending on your state) occurs in your case, it is critical to work with a financial professional who can project your after-tax cash flow and assist you with preparing both a pre- and post-divorce budget. You do not want to commit to a lifestyle for you and your children that you cannot afford. And, conversely, you don’t want to pinch pennies and live in a state of anxiety if your CDFA concludes that running out of money later is unlikely.

How to Find a Good CDFA

You can find a CDFA in your area by entering your zip code on the Institute for Divorce Financial Analyst’s website. There you will find newly-minted CDFAs as well as experienced practitioners.  

Many CDFAs have Yelp or Google reviews so be sure to check those sites as well as ask for referrals. 

Ask your divorced friends for the names of attorneys, mediators, and CDFAs. I recently attended a birthday party for a former client and was pleasantly surprised to see two other former clients in attendance. I had only met with one of them via Zoom during the pandemic and it was wonderful to be able to give her an in-person hug. 

Everyone is using Zoom these days so you do not need to limit yourself to a CDFA in your local area. And, in my experience, Zoom is even better than in-person meetings when reviewing and commenting on documents and spreadsheets. As long as the CDFA is familiar with your state’s laws and has experience working with attorneys or mediators in your state, he or she should be able to provide value, but never legal advice (that is what your attorney does).

For example, since one of my specialties is determining the marital and separate property portions of equity compensation for employees of both publicly–traded and start-up companies, it is no surprise that many of my clients live in the San Francisco Bay Area when I’m physically located in San Diego. 

How to Prepare for a Financial Consultation for Divorce

Most financial advisors and CDFAs offer complimentary financial consultations for divorce. I offer consultations by phone and last between 15 and 30 minutes. I also provide 30-minute financial consultations for divorce to participants in SAS for Women’s Annie’s Group. Before your consultation, check out the advisor or CDFA’s website and read their resources. This is your opportunity to have a professional answer your basic questions before you ask specific questions relevant to your unique situation.

To make your consultation call most productive, it’s best to have…

  • a list of you and your spouse’s assets and debts and estimated values 
  • your last two years of tax returns. 

Some women handle the finances in their marriage, so this information is not hard for them to organize. But in reality, only some women have access to all that information so just do the best you can. Any information you can provide is helpful. You will also want to tell the CDFA how long you have been married, whether you are currently living with your spouse, and the ages of any minor children.

While the CDFA may be able to answer some of your questions, don’t expect him or her to answer all of them during a brief consultation. If you are the primary breadwinner in your family, and increasingly many women are, you’ll want to make sure you do everything to protect yourself and support your family. You’ll want to ask the advisor/CDFA how he or she works. Specifically, you’ll want to know whether the fee is hourly or flat-rate, and what you can expect to accomplish by working together. For example, I charge an hourly rate but also offer flat-fee packages for divorce financial planning and analysis before and during divorce like the “It Could Happen” and “Mediation Money Mentor” packages. 

Conclusion

No matter how you choose to divorce (mediation using a neutral third-party, traditional approach of you each hiring a lawyer, litigation, or DIY via an online platform), connecting with a financial advisor is just plain smart to ensure your best future. A CDFA can add value by reducing legal expenses and/or the time it takes to divorce. Once you become educated on your financial options and what is possible, you can more effectively and healthily advocate for yourself during the divorce process. You’ll avoid the possibility of making financial mistakes that will be detrimental to your future. I cannot tell you how many times I have introduced myself at a networking event where the woman will say to me, “I wish I had known about you when I was going through my divorce.”  

Notes

Laurie Itkin, “The Options Lady,” is a financial advisor and certified divorce financial analyst® and has worked on more than 250 divorce cases, primarily in California, either as a financial neutral or advocate to one spouse. Laurie has been quoted in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, San Diego Union Tribune, Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, U.S. News and World Reports, Parade, Redbook, and Forbes. She is a member of the Association of Divorce Financial Planners, the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts and the National Association of Women Business Owners and provides pro-bono financial advice to clients of the San Diego Financial Literacy Center and Savvy Ladies. You can request a consultation or sign up for Laurie’s monthly newsletter here

 

Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women. We partner with you through the emotional, financial, and oft times complicated experience of divorce and rebuilding your life afterward. Schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation with SAS. Tell us confidentially what’s going on, and we’ll give you clear feedback, resources, and suggestions for your next steps.

How long does it take to get a divorce?

How Long Does it Take to Get a Divorce?

Divorce is a process, not simply a stamp of finality. How long does it take to get a divorce? Well, that depends… on factors both within and outside your control.

You may want a divorce yesterday, but even the speediest dissolutions are at the mercy of your state’s divorce laws.

And, even if the court is ready to give you back your maiden name, you and your future ex could drag out the process.

When factoring in the time quotient for getting a divorce, it’s important to recognize and embrace the entire process.

Divorce isn’t a fast-food drive-thru window. There are stages leading up to it and stages coming out of it.

When asking “How long does it take to get a divorce?” you may have only the pragmatic, legal, sign-on-the-dotted line timeline in mind.

But the bigger picture of going through a divorce involves questions like “How long does it take to get OVER a divorce?

That may sound irrelevant when all you want to do is have lawyers and courts—and your future Ex—out of your life. But recognizing the totality of the divorce process will help you make wiser choices in what you do and how you do it.

For example, even if the legal part of your divorce is relatively quick, you may feel as if your divorce takes years. From contemplation to grieving to making lifestyle adjustments, recovering, and healing, the entire process may take three to five years.

And what if you flounder in the contemplation stage, living in marital limbo without taking action?

Even if you find yourself paralyzed in your marriage, unable to move it forward and unwilling to leave, the clock still ticks. And not educating yourself on the process and truths of divorce can keep you in denial and prolong the inevitable.

When You’ve Decided to Proceed with Divorce

But let’s say your mind is made up and you’re determined to follow through with your divorce. Now you need to know how long those flaming hoops are going to take to jump through.

The primary determinants are your state or jurisdiction, your ability to come to agreeable terms with your spouse, and the judge’s schedule.

An uncontested divorce will always be facilitated more quickly than a contested divorce. So, even if you and your spouse could never agree during your marriage, divorce could be a good time to start.

The first thing you should do is familiarize yourself with your state’s divorce laws. Several factors may affect the timing and ease of your divorce, including:

If you have hired a lawyer to help you through the process, s/he will usually need a couple weeks to draw up the petition. And then your spouse will have anywhere from 20 to 60 days to respond after being served.

That means five to 10 weeks just to get the ball rolling, assuming you have met the time requirements mentioned above.

For Help, Turn to Mediators

So, how long does it take to get a divorce once you have filed and your spouse has responded?

Again, that depends.

If you have no children and relatively few (or at least uncomplicated) assets and little debt, you can potentially DIY it. Get the papers online, fill everything out, file, endure your state’s waiting period, and you’re done.

But, if you can’t agree on certain issues, you will need the help of professionals.

If your goal is to stay out of court, mediation can bridge the gap between the DIY divorce and a contested divorce. And it can be especially helpful if you have children or more complexity to your assets.

A mediator can be an attorney or even a therapist well-versed in the applicable laws. What’s important is his/her ability to help the two of you reach an agreeable solution to difficult areas such as custody.

Arbitration involves a third party who weighs both sides of the argument and decides on the settlement. While this approach keeps you out of court and waiting for a court date, it’s still a longer process than an uncontested or mediated divorce.

Finally, if your divorce is turning out to be too contentious for the above choices, there’s always court. And court means waiting for an available date in what may already be a backlogged schedule for the judge.

It also means attorney fees, court fees, and potentially drawn-out negotiations.

There’s the pre-trial. There’s the trial. There are the judge’s rulings that have to be written into court orders.

Then, if there is any disagreement with the rulings, there are appeals.

And, even after everything is agreed to and the judge signs off on your divorce, those rulings have to be carried out. Perhaps the house has to be sold or accounts have to be split or documents have to be changed.

And yes, that can mean months or even years.

You may want to do some research on the details of what happens if your divorce goes to court.

The Takeaway

If you’re starting to squirm and feel a little overwhelmed by all the possibilities, you’re not alone. Millions of women have been where you are, and each has her own story.

Leaning on women who have “been there” can be the best support for navigating this painful, unfamiliar process.

What’s the takeaway from this long answer to your question, “How long does it take to get a divorce”?

The most important realization is that you have more power than you may think you do.

You may feel challenged in exercising that power if your spouse chooses to make things difficult. But you always have the choice and the power to educate yourself and surround yourself with outstanding resources.

Ultimately, the time it takes for your divorce to be finalized will depend on you and your future Ex.

Can you bring the best, most composed, informed, prepared versions of yourselves to the table to advocate for everyone’s well-being and future?

If you can, your divorce will have to answer only to the timeline set forth by your state or jurisdiction.

And that means money and heartache spared… and a head start on your new life.

 

Since 2012 smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional and often times complicated experience of divorce. We invite you to learn what’s possible for you. Schedule you FREE 15-minute consultation with SAS. Whether you are coping with divorce or already navigating your life afterward, choose to acknowledge your vulnerability and choose to not go it alone.

 

Divorce Judgement

What is a Divorce Judgement?

There are many legal documents you may face during the course of the divorce process. These may include those certified or sworn by the parties and the judge’s orders. This article will explain what a Divorce Judgement is as well as what other legal documents you may encounter.

Keep in mind that a Divorce Judgement can also be called a Divorce Decree, a Judgement of Divorce, or a Final Judgement of Divorce. This language depends upon the state in which you file your divorce proceeding. This information about Divorce Judgements is from the office of a busy Philadelphia divorce attorney.

How Does a Divorce Unfold in Court?

How a divorce judgement unfolds legally will depend upon whether you have a contested or uncontested divorce. This is the determining factor of whether or not you go to court. An uncontested divorce is when you and your spouse agree to:

Note: An uncontested divorce can also occur when one party files for divorce and the other party fails to file an Answer or officially acknowledge receipt of the papers.

Uncontested Divorce

Even in an uncontested divorce, it is not common for couples to agree on a solution to every single issue that must be resolved as part of the divorce. This is the work of the divorce attorneys. Their job is to negotiate on behalf of their clients until both parties agree upon terms. If the parties refuse to come to terms, the court may get involved in disputed matters. Regardless, you can expect that an uncontested divorce will finalize much more quickly than a contested divorce. 


To understand more about an uncontested and contested divorce, read How Much Will My Divorce Cost Me, Financially & Emotionally?”


The timeline of the divorce process will vary according to the procedure in each state. However, a couple filing an uncontested divorce can expect to divorce in as little as four or five weeks or as long as a year. This timeline depends upon the family court docket backlog–or how busy they are at your local courthouse

Contested Divorce

A contested divorce is another matter entirely. The term “contested divorce” refers to a divorce proceeding in which the couple adamantly disagrees about any or all of the following: 

  • Whether to get divorced
  • Who was at fault (in an at-fault state)
  • The terms of the property settlement agreement in general
  • What assets are considered community property (in a community property state)
  • The terms of the parenting time arrangement
  • Whether child support should be paid
  • The terms of the child custody arrangement
  • The amount of child support that should be paid
  • Whether spousal support should be paid
  • The amount of spousal support should be paid

The length of time it takes to resolve all of the issues in a contested divorce will vary greatly from case to case. If the parties enter into mediation or arbitration, that may help speed up the process. If the parties cannot agree and must make their arguments to the family law judge and let him or her decide for them, those hearings will proceed as quickly (or as slowly) as the court’s docket allows.

Typically, family law courts are busy. It is not unheard of for a contested divorce to take at least a year to conclude, and in some cases, to drag on for years.

So, a tip to the consumer: when you are asking questions and interviewing lawyers, and feel very strongly about a particular issue, make sure you ask the lawyer how winnable that issue will be for you and what the ballpark cost might be if you have to go to court to win it.

What Legal Documents Arise During a Divorce Proceeding?

The Plaintiff (and his or her attorneys) create the following legal documents:

  • Complaint (or Petition) for Divorce
  • Case Information Statement
  • Certification of Service of Process on Defendant/Respondent

Note: Some states refer to the Plaintiff as the Petitioner.

While you may be the one filing for divorce, it’s possible that you are instead on the receiving end of a divorce filing from your spouse. Don’t panic! Instead, educate yourself about what to do if you are served divorce papers.

These are considered legal documents, and those filing must certify or swear that the information contained within them is true and correct to the best of their knowledge.

What Happens After I File Divorce Papers?

Upon receipt of the filing, the family law judge will then issue a Joint Preliminary Injunction (JPI) preventing either party from selling or giving away marital assets, including the joint bank account. 

Assuming that you are the one filing for divorce, your spouse (the Defendant, or Respondent) will have a certain amount of time to file his or her Answer to the divorce papers (Divorce Judgement). Again, your spouse must certify or swear that the information in their Answer is true and correct.

After receiving the divorce papers, if your spouse agrees with your filing or otherwise fails to file an Answer within the allotted time, the Plaintiff receives a Judgement by Default and a Final Judgement of Divorce. This will include a Child Support Order if needed, a Spousal Support Order if needed, and a Property Settlement Agreement providing for the distribution of the marital assets.

If your spouse disputes your divorce claim or requests different agreement details, he or she must also file a Case Information Statement. This statement discloses their financial situation and must also accompany a Certification of Service of Process.

In a contested divorce where your spouse expressed issues with custody, support, or distribution of marital assets, the court will then issue orders while you negotiate. Once both parties resolve all issues, the court will memorialize them in the Final Judgement of Divorce.

Are There Legal Documents That Come After the Divorce Judgement?

Yes. Additional court orders may occur if disputes continue. Such orders include:

  • A modified Child Support Order
  • Modified Spousal Support Order
  • Modified Child Custody Agreement

If either party is not complying with the agreed terms, the judge might also issue an order for Contempt of Court or an Order to Pay Attorney’s Fees and Costs. Additionally, if a party fails to appear in court, the family law judge may even issue a Warrant for Arrest.

Lastly, if there are allegations of spousal or child abuse or harassment, the family law judge may issue a Temporary Restraining Order or a Final Restraining Order.

In conclusion, a divorce judgement finalizes your divorce but is not the only important legal document stemming from your divorce process. Your divorce judgement also may not be the last legal document governing you and your Ex. If there are disputes over child custody agreement, properties, or support amounts, more documents may follow. Also, if the financial circumstances of either spouse changes, this may affect the divorce agreement.  Lastly, if there are allegations of abuse or harassment, there may be additional court orders following the Final Judgement of Divorce.

 

Notes:

Veronica Baxter is a blogger and legal assistant living and working in the great city of Philadelphia, USA. She frequently works with Lee Schwartz, a noted Philadelphia divorce lawyer.

Since 2012, SAS for Women has helped women face the unexpected challenges of considering divorce and navigating the divorce experience. SAS offers six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists, and support strategies for you and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.