Assembling Your Divorce Team

To be effective, your team should have a deep understanding of your financial situation, family structure and long-term goals.

The process of divorce can seem overwhelming and complicated, which is why the team of advisors you partner with is a critical part of the process. Your team can have a significant impact on the path and outcome of your proceedings. To be effective, they should have a deep understanding of your financial situation, family structure and long-term goals.

Family Law Attorney

One of the first steps in this journey is to get a clear picture of the laws in your state regarding the dissolution of marriage. A family law attorney is the most important partner, providing legal advice and guidance through this complex process. Each client's situation is unique, so the degree to which an attorney is involved can vary (litigation, consultative, mediation, collaborative, etc.). It is crucial to hire an attorney who is licensed to practice in your state and whose expertise aligns with your specific situation (i.e., custody, special property, business ownership, multinational families). Many of the nation's most prominent attorneys are members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Once you have secured the right legal team, your attorney may suggest other advisors who can add additional perspective to your case.

Trust & Estate Attorney

If family trusts are involved, your family law attorney may suggest that a trust and estate attorney be consulted early on in the divorce process. A trust and estate attorney ensures that trusts are treated properly during the asset division process and that you maintain a sound estate plan for the future. An estate plan is developed with you and your family's goals in mind, so when those goals change, it is imperative that you create or update your plan to reflect those altered circumstances. Beneficiaries, agents and power of attorney designations should be amended. There are also often asset titling changes that must be addressed. Assets that were once jointly owned must be retitled to reflect the appropriate ownership following the divorce. Other circumstances, such as having minor children or assets in multiple states, could potentially be addressed by setting up a trust. Wills and other important documents, such as health care proxies, HIPAA authorizations and living wills, should also be created or updated to make sure your wishes are carried out.

Wealth Manager, Financial Planner

When your family law attorney is assessing the division of property from a legal perspective, they often bring in experts to consult on complex financial matters. A wealth manager can perform a detailed financial analysis of your investments while pinpointing certain risks and opportunities. The wealth advisor not only works with your attorney but complements other financial experts on your team (forensic accountants, CPAs and valuation specialists) to prepare balance sheets, net worth statements, and a spending or cash flow analysis. A wealth advisor who is familiar with the complexities of divorce can help you understand the financial implications of each decision before you make them. The right wealth advisor is someone who understands your overarching financial picture and personal objectives, which will lead to peace of mind long after your divorce is finalized. They will manage your investment portfolio based on your individual goals and lifestyle and can often provide customized solutions including checking accounts, credit lines, escrow accounts and mortgages. Every firm operates differently and it's important to find the best fit for you. When evaluating financial advisors, ask if the advisor is a fiduciary, which means they have an obligation to put their client's interest first.

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

An accountant's primary role is to provide sound tax advice. Given the intricacies of the Internal Revenue Code, a CPA's expertise can have an impact on the amount of taxes either saved or owed as a result of your divorce. When dividing your marital estate, there can be significant savings opportunities — and risks, if taxation is not considered. For those that own a business or have other complex assets like trusts and real estate, a skilled CPA can often identify methods to reduce your tax burden during the divorce process and beyond.

Forensic Accountant

Distinguishing all the pieces of a marital estate in a divorce can be challenging. A forensic accountant can clarify this intricate financial picture by tracking, tracing and analyzing the movement of assets over specified periods of time to give an accurate portrayal of cash flow. He or she will work with your attorney to locate assets that may be hidden or may have been spent, which can easily be overlooked when defining the total marital estate. A forensic accountant is an important resource for couples with complex assets such as privately held businesses or assets held in trusts or multiple countries. He or she can also assist with income determination and classification, and testify in court to their findings. They are experts in not only recognizing what the personal and business records show, but what maybe withheld.

Other Advisors That Your Attorney May Suggest

Corporate or labor attorney: Legal advisors who specialize in protecting the interests of a family business.

Valuation specialist: A trained professional who performs an in-depth analysis of specialty assets like privately held businesses and executive compensation.

Insurance professional: Specialists who can evaluate current property and life insurance coverage, estimate potential risk and provide solutions to protect future income, and minimize financial implications of unforeseen circumstances.

Real estate agent: Local experts on residential property valuation and marketability, purchasing, and selling.

Mental health professionals: Various types of certified experts who can support you and your family through the emotional elements of divorce.

  • This material is provided for illustrative/educational purposes only. This material is not intended to constitute legal, tax, investment or financial advice. Effort has been made to ensure that the material presented herein is accurate at the time of publication. However, this material is not intended to be a full and exhaustive explanation of the law in any area or of all of the tax, investment or financial options available. The information discussed herein may not be applicable to or appropriate for every investor and should be used only after consultation with professionals who have reviewed your specific situation. Trademarks and logos belong to their respective owners. BNY Mellon Wealth Management conducts business through various operating subsidiaries of The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation. ©2019 The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation. All rights reserved.