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Including a Neutral Financial Professional on the Collaborative Team

By Theresa Beran Kulat

In a divorce it goes without saying that money is often front and center in many of the conversations. In my years as a Collaborative attorney (over 17 years), working with hundreds of people to help them complete their marriage, I’ve seen the benefits firsthand of including a Neutral Financial Professional (NFP) on the team.

In Collaborative divorce, we acknowledge that people come to the table with different experiences in their past (e.g., one person in the relationship may have handled investments and the other day-to-day finances) and different hopes and fears about the future. In discussions around finances, it helps to remove the emotions and look at the facts without judgment. Employing a NFP as a key player on the Collaborative Team can really help. They bring a depth of professional knowledge to the table, understand the complex financial discussions that surface during a divorce, and provide information and support in an unbiased manner. The NFP is interviewed and hired by both parties, preferably at the beginning of the case.

Including an NFP on the team adds value to the Collaborative Process in several ways:

1. Neutral discovery saves time and money. In traditional litigation, each “side” does discovery and then exchanges it. Sometimes there is duplication of effort, and often there are questions. In Collaborative, the back and forth between two “opposing” attorneys is eliminated by using one professional who remains curious rather than accusatory. In Collaborative, each attorney has the duty to monitor the documents that have been produced by both parties and can always ask for more information if they feel something has been overlooked. The difference is that rather than two attorneys requesting the same (or different) documents, the NFP plays the quarter-back, communicating with clients to obtain these documents and asking clarifying questions. Information is then shared with the team.

2. Different settlement scenarios help both parties visualize outcomes and make decisions. Because Collaborative is an interest-based process, it requires an inquiry into whether or not (or to what degree) any given settlement scenario meets each party’s goals. Experienced lawyers can tell their clients likely outcomes if the facts were presented to a judge but they are not qualified to make predictions as to the financial viability of a given proposal. In my experience, cases settle more quickly and with less stress when there is an NFP generating the reports (e.g., balance sheets and budget analysis), rather than one attorney’s office or the other preparing reports. As the attorney, I still advocate for my client – I request to see certain scenarios. I ask questions about implications. I encourage my client to ask questions. The goal: two fully informed adults choosing a settlement that meets their most essential needs. They may not get everything they want but we don’t stop until both parties are satisfied.

3. The NFP can mediate issues when necessary. There is a reason IACP Ethical Standards and CDI Membership Standards require mediation training for all members. In Collaborative, we tend to have medium- and high-conflict couples who need support. On occasion, due to the professionals’ and/or clients’ schedules, it can be hard to schedule a full-team meeting. In those situations, the clients may meet with the NFP in a three-way meeting to get questions answered and make decisions. The attorneys trust that the NFP has the skill set necessary to mediate discussions, if necessary, so that the clients can move through any impasse. As a precaution, I always ask my client to make tentative agreements in a three-way meeting. It may be that the attorneys have additional insights into the topic.

Having explained the benefits of having an NFP on a Collaborative case, I acknowledge that sometimes either the other attorney or the clients do not want to include one on the team. In these situations, more often than not, the person that was opposed to bringing a NFP on board later admits it would have been easier had one been included.

If you are considering Collaborative divorce, I strongly encourage you to be open to the idea of using a Neutral Financial Professional. At the end of the day, having an NFP on the team can help you and your partner be better informed as you conclude your financial past and create a new future.

Theresa Beran Kulat 

Collaborative Lawyer & Mediator

Trinity Family Law

630-960-4656 / Theresa@TrinityFamilyLaw.com

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