(July 16, 2004) Despite calling divorce the most financially expensive event in their life, the vast majority of divorced Canadians did not receive any financial advice while going through the process, according to a Decima Express survey for Investors Group.

“While 61% said divorce was the most financially expensive event that could happen in there lives, an even greater number did not receive any financial advice,” says Debbie Ammeter, vice-president of advanced financial planning at Investors Group. “There are so many financial implications to divorce that it really is important to be getting financial advice.”

The poll of 160 divorced Canadians found:

  • 35% had to go into debt;
  • 22% had to seek financial support from friends and family;
  • 28% had to sell household items or personal assets; and
  • 27% had to sell or redeem financial investments.

Also startling is the number of people who appear to have had a financial advisor before the divorce. The poll found that 53% of respondents said they had financial plans in place before the divorce, either with their spouse or on their own, yet 74% still did not get financial advice.

While no one would try to go through a divorce without a lawyer, they may fail to realize their lawyer is really only qualified for legal advice and may not be able to safeguard all aspects of the client’s financial well-being.

“The lawyers will go through as much as they can, but they aren’t financial planners,” says Ammeter. “I think they would recommend people look at their financial situation and get a plan in place for after the divorce and also understand how a proposed settlement will affect them.”

“Clients should recognize that it is an emotional time and try to use sound judgment when making financial decisions,” says Ammeter. “A financial planner can help to reach out beyond the emotions, at least for the financial issues.”

That’s where financial planners like Toronto-based Doug Lamb come in. He specializes in guiding clients through life-altering events and divorce is a large part of his practice.

“Client’s emotions are running rampant, feelings are all over the place and they’re being asked to make a lot of decisions that are going to impact them for a long period of time,” says Lamb, CFP, CA, and owner of Spera Financial Inc. “They really don’t even understand a lot of the questions they’re going to be asked or the decisions that have to be made.”

Aside from planning his client’s finances for post-divorce life, another part of Lamb’s task is to examine the financial disclosure statements of the other party in the divorce to determine if the offer his client receives is reasonable.

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  • “My job is to keep people grounded and focused on realistic expectations,” he says. “My value is not only in helping them come up with realistic numbers for submission, but also in evaluating and being comfortable with what the other person has provided is in fact fair and reasonable.”

    Since he specializes in helping people through life events, Lamb says he meets his clients as they are going the divorce process. He maintains his visibility in the marketplace by writing columns for various divorce-related magazines and through professional relationships with divorce lawyers. He says both are invaluable tools for attracting clients.

    “I think divorce lawyers would appreciate knowing financial planners that they could refer their clients to,” says Ammeter. “It is a good centre of influence relationship because it is beneficial to everyone. The lawyer is going to feel much more comfortable that the client understands the whole proposed settlement and process.”

    Guiding clients through a divorce can be challenging, as Lamb points out the advisor needs to be experienced and familiar with the Family Law Act, matrimonial law and the tax regime.

    There are programs which offer designations in planning around divorce, such as the Financial Divorce Specialist (FDS) offered through the Academy of Financial Divorce Specialists and the U.S.-based Certified Divorce Financial Analysts (CDFA) offered by The Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts.

    “It’s very important that people have things calmly explained to them, that they believe they have the people who have the expertise to look after their interests,” he says. “They just want to feel there’s somebody on their side, who understands it, is giving them fair and reasonable advice so they can make the best informed decision that they can for themselves.”

    Filed by Steven Lamb, Advisor.ca, steven.lamb@advisor.rogers.com