A few years ago, when I was moving from Florida to Maryland with my husband, while pregnant, AND switching jobs, I had a friend give me some great advice. “Take it one box at a time,” she told me. “But there is so much to do!!” I responded, exasperated at the growing To Do List I was attempting to keep in the Notes section of my phone. She smiled and said, “Yes. But not everything needs to be done at once. So, spread it out. Pack your home by committing to do one box at a time, one day at a time, leaving the necessities like toiletries and utensils for last. Then, when you get to the new house, do the same thing. Unpack the necessities first, and then commit to one box, one day at a time.”
I must admit: I thought this was a strange and unrealistic suggestion, but I went against my judgement and did as she suggested. I cannot tell you how glad I was that I did. Moving is a huge disrupter in your life, and with life disruptions comes a multitude of emotions and stress, which can make you feel like your world is crashing down around you.
Your mind creates these false deadlines, expectations and worries, filling you with dread and piling a mountain of stress on you. Unpacking one box at a time allowed me to prioritize my emotional health, and sidestep false deadlines I would have created for myself if I had an unrealistic expectation of my house being perfectly in order the moment I arrived. There were things far more important and timely for me to stress about than being fully unpacked right away.
Now, as a financial professional, I have realized that this mantra of “One Box at a Time” is how I approach helping clients who are experiencing one of the largest life disrupters there is: Divorce. It should surprise no one that divorce is an emotionally trying and stressful time. The great news, however, is that there is one aspect of divorce that can be unpacked in a manageable way with the help of the right professional: Your finances.
I help clients unpack the box that is their financial life. In doing so, I help them prioritize financial activities, have realistic expectations, make important decisions, sidestep false deadlines they may otherwise create for themselves, and I provide expert testimony for their attorney should they need it. Divorce isn’t an overnight transition, and it is very emotional. The great news about the “Financial Box” is that it’s fact-based, and can be appropriately prioritized so you can focus on other items with your attorney and other advisors, like custody of minor children and your emotional health.
Here are the ways in which a financial advisor can help you, and your attorney, throughout your divorce process:
At the end of the day, having a financial professional on your team of advisors through your divorce will ultimately reduce your stress, give you all the information you need to make decisions, give your attorney all the information he/she needs to adequately advocate for you, and potentially limit your expenses related to back and forth negotiations.
A divorce is stressful enough without having to worry about trying to be an expert. As Morgan has said, you’ll be surprised to find out how much you may not know, and you’ll want to ditch any preconceived notions you may have had. It’s important to have competent, compassionate and intelligent advisors in your corner – to get you set off on the best foot in this new important life chapter. In addition to your attorney, these advisors may include a financial advisor, a therapist, a business advisor, and/or even a spiritual advisor, to name a few. Be sure to surround yourself with the best when choosing this team.
When interviewing potential financial advisors, remember that your initial consultation should always be free. Also, try to steer clear of those that might try to sell you products like insurance or annuities. It is likely smart to investigate choosing a fee-only financial advisor – They are independent and are always true fiduciaries for their clients, which is especially important while you are navigating a divorce.
And, when all else fails, remember to focus on one box at a time. Your new home doesn’t have to be perfectly in order immediately for you to find peace and solace in the knowledge that you’re headed in the best direction for your future.
Margo Cook is a fee-only financial advisor with 1 North Wealth Services, and is honored to serve clients experiencing life-changing transitions like divorce. (410-975-0099, firstname.lastname@example.org)