The 4 People You Need On Your Divorce Team
Our Alameda Divorce Attorneys Know How To Fight And When To Fight
When somebody decides their marriage is over and it is time to initiate a divorce, a significant concern is finding the best divorce attorney. However, a good divorce lawyer does not work alone—they enlist a team of professionals to help secure your future.
Can you handle a divorce on your own?
Many people attempt it, and some can. But divorce is complicated, emotional, and difficult. Having a team in place to help you through the process is invaluable, and professionals like estate planners, certified divorce financial analysts, and bankers provide a needed focus on what happens after divorce that helps produce a better outcome.
Robyn Ginney joined a Divorce Essentials panel to talk about the five stages of divorce and where and how the assistance of a team is vital for serving the needs of her clients.
Understanding The Five Stages of Divorce
A divorce typically happens in five stages: The pre-planning stage is when you know your relationship is over but you don’t know what the next step looks like and how to get there. The second step is the initiating of the divorce—actually filing the papers, serving the papers, and getting the process started.
The third step is what I call the “show me your cards” step. That’s where everybody has to disclose all of the assets and debts and the income that they receive during the marriage, and even after the marriage, because this is where we consider support, what assets you have, and how to manage them. This is where the team typically comes in.
The fourth stage is the judgment stage. This is the final legal chapter of the divorce. This establishes what’s going to happen with the property, what’s going to happen with support, and how you’re going to close this chapter and move on to the next and final stage, which is the rest of your life.
This is the stage everyone needs to prepare for during the divorce, because the attorney’s role ends at the judgment entry stage, typically. But life goes on after that, and the ramifications and impacts of having a good divorce settlement or outcome will reverberate for the next five, ten, fifteen, or twenty years.
The Role of the Divorce Team in Stage Three
The third stage, which is the second legal stage of the divorce process, is the “show me your cards” stage. This is where, under California law, you are statutorily obligated to disclose every asset, debt, business opportunity, and income source that you have because it’s community property, and you have a fiduciary duty to your spouse to disclose this. If there is going to be a problem, if things are going to fall apart and you’re not going to be able to proceed with the divorce yourself, typically this is where the problems are going to start. It’s the willingness to communicate, to cooperate, to disclose, to be transparent that tends to be the biggest obstacle.
This is also where the team you put in place will become vital down the road. Not only is it important to figure out what you have, but there are tax ramifications to everything that is tied to money and even kids. For example, who claims the kids on the tax return? Do you claim head of household? Can you claim head of household? Is it going to make a difference for you in the long run? These are the kinds of questions that we’re looking at in this stage.
Typically, I’ll put together a spreadsheet that has all the assets on it. Under California law, if you were to go to court, the court has to order a 50-50 in-kind division of all of the assets. But that’s often the worst-case scenario for most people, which is why settling out of court is so vital and so helpful. You can avoid the division in kind by making swaps. But certain proposed swaps, such as giving up an IRA or 401(K) to buy out equity in a house, can be problematic and should be fully considered first.
Besides hiring a divorce lawyer, here are 3 other essential professionals you’ll want on your divorce team:
The Financial Analyst
Financial analyst: It’s vital to have a certified divorce financial analyst who can go through that spreadsheet with me and my client to go through it from a holistic perspective. They look at the client’s financial goals, strategize on what they need to do to get there, and look at how the decisions they make now will affect their ability to meet their goals. Those are the key questions I can’t really answer as an attorney. It’s really helpful to figure out what is the best distribution of assets that will put you in the most secure position as a launching pad for the fifth stage of divorce, which is the rest of your life.
The Estate Planner
Estate planner: I will also bring in an estate planner when we’re moving toward the judgment stage, when things are starting to be finalized and there are estate planning issues that may arise. For instance, maybe there’s a trust in place, and the family house is held in the trust. Maybe you’re receiving assets like IRAs, 401(K)s, and investment accounts that are outside of the trust, and you need someone to walk you through what you do with this now that you have it. An estate planner also helps you protect it, not only for yourself (which is what a divorce financial analyst is good for), but also for the future and your kids. And most important, they help you put everything in line so your assets don’t automatically revert back to your spouse because you didn’t change something as part of the divorce process.
Banker: Finally, working with a banker is almost like back to basics. It is helpful to have a personal relationship with a banker when there are high-level exchanges, such as when a house is sold, the bank will need to hold the majority of the funds, and there might be a risk of one spouse attempting to clean out the account. You can’t rely on a regular retail bank to guard against such issues.
But I also refer my clients to a banker when they’re dividing assets and multiple joint accounts. They need to open a new account, they don’t really know where, they don’t know what the ramifications are—the thought of setting up one more thing, to set up the online banking, to transfer everything over, and to do it by yourself is daunting. It’s really helpful to have somebody you can reach out to who can talk you through it. Anything I can do to connect my client to somebody who can make their lives just a little bit easier, I am all for it.
Getting The Judgement And Moving Forward
When the judgment is entered, it closes the legal door that was opened by the petition. This is the document that says you can now remarry because you’re single. You can file a separate tax return. It also says if you’re awarded a bank account, a 401(K), a retirement account, an asset, this is the legal document you show to all of the financial institutions that shows it was awarded to you and you can now control it. The judgment is also what will set in place spousal and/or child support, the custody aspects, and help you plan for the next five years, ten years, fifteen years because now you know from the judgment how the assets are divided and the income stream you can expect. Once you get all of those cards and throw them in the air, the judgment is the thing that memorializes how those cards land.
Knowing this makes it clear why getting the right professional advice and assistance at that third stage is critical. Having a professional team in place to consult as you are negotiating your settlement agreement can help ensure the terms of the final judgment will create the post-divorce future you need.
Your Expert Divorce Attorneys In Alameda County, California
At Hart Ginney LLP, we’re focused on achieving the best long-term outcome for our clients after their divorce. During your divorce case, we’ll work with the right professionals to ensure you have the guidance you need to make informed decisions each step of the way. To set up a consultation, call us at (510) 628-0250 or fill out the contact form below.
1939 Harrison Street, Suite 210
Oakland, CA 94612