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How to Protect Your Clients’ Financial Futures in a Divorce

Most people know that divorce can take a financial toll. So what’s the best way for clients to protect their assets during a divorce? And more importantly, how can you help your clients plan for the future given their new financial reality?

Today’s guest will answer these questions and more. Debbie Hartzman is a financial advisor, holding CFP, CLU, CDFA (Certified Divorce Financial Analyst), TEP and CEA designations. She’s also an author and a national expert on helping individuals undergoing separation or divorce proceedings. Listen in to hear what she has to say about becoming an advisor, understanding the nuances of working with divorcing or separating couples, and the benefits of using a financial advisor during separation or divorce. 

What You’ll Learn in This Episode: 

  • Understanding the difference between separation and divorce (12:30)
  • The benefit of having a financial advisor during a divorce (16:20)
  • The tax implications of divorce (29:10)
  • How Debbie approaches potential conflicts of interest (23:30)
  • How new advisors can begin specializing in divorce (48:30)
  • Staying focused when helping clients through a separation (53:40)

Links and Resources: 

Hartzman and Associates

To order Debbie’s book, Divorce isn’t Easy, But it Can be Fair, contact her through her website above. 

Quotes by Debbie Hartzman: 

“If I’m going to be in this business, I’m going to be that bus driver. I’m going to be the coordinate between the lawyer, between the accountant, and the client so that there’s somebody watching the big picture and helping the client make good financial decisions.”

“That’s where my value comes in. It’s being able to help them understand how that’s going to impact them not today, not tomorrow, but in ten or fifteen years down the road.”

“I wouldn’t be a good planner if I didn’t plan for myself. So my plan for myself was: I love this business, I love giving back, I love helping people, but I also want to do it on my terms instead of the business running me.”

Now approaching a quarter-century in the business, Debbie has (literally) written the book on having a divorce that is fair and ensures long-term financial stability. Coming from a legal background, she understands how to work with lawyers to help clients make the most of marital separation.

Below, we’re sharing three key ideas from this episode:

  • The benefit of having a financial advisor during a divorce
  • Staying focused when helping clients through a separation
  • How new advisors can begin specializing in divorce

For the rest of the episode, find the podcast on iTunes or Stitcher, or hit the link above.

The benefit of having a financial advisor during a divorce

It’s well understood that when going through a separation or divorce, it’s important to have lawyers helping you through the process. However, while lawyers have expertise in the legal system, they have blind spots and lack that financial expertise. Here are some of the ways Debbie helps clients navigate divorce in a way that a lawyer alone can’t:

Decision-making

Lawyers negotiate on behalf of their clients, but it’s still up to the client to decide what they want out of the divorce and what the lawyers should be trying to achieve.

Debbie helps clients figure out what they need and can expect in the first place. Often, a client will become fixated on one thing – keeping the house so there’s less upheaval for the kids, for example, or trying to punish their spouse financially for their infidelity. Debbie helps them have a broader look at what will benefit them financially, emotions aside.

Long-term perspective

For the most part, that broader look means looking at the person’s financial future. The lawyer’s job is to come to a settlement; it’s not to make sure that their client is financially set for the future.

Debbie can look at a client’s situation and help them see how certain decisions will affect them for the rest of their lives – taxes, cashflow, everything. “That’s where my value comes in,” she explains. “It’s being able to help them understand how that’s going to impact them not today, not tomorrow, but in ten or fifteen years down the road.”

Preparing documents

As a financial services professional, Debbie is the best person to prepare documents to help complete a financial disclosure for the client. She knows what to look for better than a lawyer.

She also helps clients save money in the process. “If we do all the grunt work in advance, we get all the documentation set up properly and we bring it to the point where we can hand it to the lawyer as a package, that cuts out a whole bunch of hours and a whole bunch of back and forth between the lawyers.”

Hint: For advice on building business relationships with lawyers, accountants, and other professionals, listen to Episode 34: A Value-First Approach for Working Effectively with Clients (and Other Professionals) with Jamie Robb.

Staying focused when helping clients through a separation

A lot of past guests on this podcast have talked about how financial planning is similar to counselling in many ways. But Debbie doesn’t see it that way.

She feels that the last thing clients want is to be paying you to talk through how they arrived in this position.

Instead, she finds it important to be laser-focused on the business aspect of the relationship and to put everything else aside. Yes, someone going through a separation is experiencing a lot of emotional turmoil. And if their partner hurt or cheated on them, they may feel that they deserve more out of the divorce. Or they might be accustomed to a certain lifestyle and expect that they can maintain it moving forward.

But in the end, a judge is going to be looking at what is fairest for both parties regardless of who hurt who in the marriage. And there’s nothing you can do to change that.

Setting realistic expectations

That’s why you must help clients manage their expectations, both around what they will be entitled to and what they can expect their lifestyle to be after assets are split. To do that, you need to understand what’s reasonable from a legal perspective.

Rather than letting them waste time fighting for a result that legally speaking isn’t possible, you need to help them be realistic and move forward with what is achievable.

Hint: If you don’t feel like you understand the separation process enough to help your clients through it, that’s ok! It’s better to refer them to someone who does than to risk giving them bad (or even illegal) advice.

How new advisors can begin specializing in divorce

Narrowing down into a specialty as a financial planner is one of the best ways to grow your business. However, Debbie cautions against trying to specialize in divorce too early in your career. In her experience, a new advisor isn’t going to be ready to specialize in such a complex area right off the bat.

Education and experience

First, she recommends getting your CFP and focusing on gaining experience and building knowledge. Debbie herself has spoken to people going through divorces, worked with mental health professionals and attended seminars – anything to give her a better ability to help her clients. When it comes to divorce and separation, you also need to be well-versed in tax and the legal process.

The legal piece is especially important as there are very specific limits on what you can and can’t advise on. The last thing you would want is to be accused of practicing law without a license and being unable to defend what you’ve advised.

Process, process, process

Just as importantly, Debbie says you need a rock-solid process that is scalable and repeatable.

From the very beginning, you should be putting processes in place that will allow you to help the clientele you want to serve while having the lifestyle you want. This isn’t something you can create right away and coast on for the rest of your career – it takes time to learn from experience and create the balance that works for you.

Make sure you catch the full episode to hear about Debbie’s full process for helping clients through separations and divorce. You can find the show right here on this page or subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher so you don’t miss any episodes. 

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