neutral financial plannerDivorce is an uncomfortable time for most couples. Even if you are going through the divorce using a collaborative approach, you probably don’t know what to expect from the split – which can be nerve-wracking. If you are anxious about your first meeting with the neutral financial planner, here’s what you need to know to arrive well-prepared and confident.

Solo or together?

Before your head into that first meeting with the neutral financial planner, think about whether you want to attend the meeting alone or with your spouse. There are pros and cons to both scenarios. Going solo allows you to have a private conversation and ask questions you may not be comfortable asking in front of your soon-to-be ex-spouse. On the other hand, having both spouses in the room can make for a more efficient conversation (which could get you answers quicker and also save you money on professional billings).

Get yourself organized

Going through a divorce will probably feel much like the first time you bought a house. Remember those stacks of lengthy documents, checklists, financial statements, copies of tax filings, etc.? You are about to do something very similar, at least in terms of the volume of paperwork. Creating a system that will help you stay organized is the key to keeping your sanity.

I recommend that my clients create two binders.

  • Binder#1 is for all their notes, miscellaneous forms, and documents they will receive from their professional team. You could use a spiral notebook with one or more pockets for loose printouts, although in my experience a three-ring binder works best.
  • Binder#2 is for copies of all documents they have provided to the team so far. That way, if someone misplaces a copy of your tax return or financial statement, you can simply make another copy – no need to dig through emails or file boxes. Organize this binder by professional category, with tabs for your attorney, the neutral financial planner, the mental health professional or divorce coach, health insurance advisor, etc. There should also be a section for homework: documents to fill out, forms to complete, information to locate. Depending on the situation, your residence, children’s issues, small business ownership, and other critical areas of negotiation should also have their own sections.

Review the list of documents to provide

Your neutral financial planner has probably shared a list of requested documents and information pieces that you will need to provide. Review the list to get a sense for what’s expected. It is okay to feel overwhelmed: many of my clients don’t know where to start. I encourage you to aim for progress, not perfection. If there is any low-hanging fruit to knock off easily and quickly, get it done right away. Some of the documents may have to be requested from the bank, the IRS, your financial advisor, etc. Maintain notes on your progress so that you don’t have to back-track or wonder where things stand.

Prepare your questions

Your most pressing question, in your first meeting with the neutral financial planner and every meeting thereafter, is probably “Will I be okay after the divorce?” While it’s impossible to answer it with a simple “Yes” or “No” out of the gate, your team will do everything to keep you informed.

A few days before the first meeting, set aside some quiet time to write down specific questions you may have for your neutral financial planner.

Here are some ideas.

  • What should I expect from the flow of the process? What do we do first? What comes next?
  • What can I do to help the process?
  • What homework should I be prepared to do?
  • How will the timing of completing the homework affect the timeline of the divorce?
  • What are my options for assembling the cash flow data for the budget?

List your most important questions first, less important ones towards the bottom. That way, should the meeting draw to the end before you get to everything on your list, your most pressing concerns will have been addressed. Write them on a large (letter or legal size) note pad and leave plenty of space in between the questions to jot down notes, answers, follow-up tasks, etc.

First meeting with your neutral financial planner: what to expect

It’s not unusual for clients to feel apprehensive and nervous going into their first meeting with the neutral financial planner. While some anxiety is normal, take a deep breath. The neutral financial planner is not there to judge or take sides, so simply answer the questions to the best of your ability. If you don’t have complete information about your finances, tell the financial planner what you do know (or what you recall seeing or hearing). No one is trying to put you on the spot, and no one expects perfection. Your collaborative professional team is there to help you get organized. We are also there to answer your questions, guide you through the technical complexities, and help you get to the other side in the best financial shape possible.

Image credit: AARP

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