With about 50% of American marriages ending in divorce, advisors are likely to find themselves helping clients navigate the process often. But what may seem logical can actually get advisors into trouble.
“You need to know how to not get into trouble with your divorce clients,” Michelle Smith, co-founder and CEO of Source Financial Advisors tells attendees at the Women advisors forum.
Smith, who specializes in high-net-worth divorce, reminds advisors that divorce is not only a financial issue but also one that is intertwined with law. She says advisors can get themselves into trouble when they apply logic to “the most broken business model and highly emotional specialty of law that has its own crazy map.”
Her advice? Don't forget the legal side.
“Divorce law is an oxymoron,” she says. “It is absolutely based on an interpretation of law based on fact patterns that maybe mimic what your clients are experiencing.”
Because divorce law is based on case law and fact patterns, Smith encourages advisors to be very careful what they tell their clients prior to the formal proceedings.
Smith warns that while you may think you’re giving your clients sound advice, you could be overstepping boundaries -- and making life very difficult for your clients’ lawyers.
“Do not unrealistically set your clients expectations,” Smith says. “Don’t say ‘Here’s what your settlement should be so you won’t run out of money.’”
Unfortunately, no matter how accurate your estimates may be based on your clients’ financials, things can -- and often do -- change throughout the formal process of the divorce. Even if the settlement you've estimated is reasonable and makes sense financially, it may not come to fruition, she adds.
“You don’t want to pick best scenarios for [your clients] because you don’t want to put the idea in their heads,” she says.
Also, advisors beware: What may seem like sound advice about what may happen in the divorce can legally be deemed the unlawful practice of law. Be careful what you decide to show your clients.
“In this emotional setting -- when divorce is the largest personal financial setback, it’s a personal tether,” Smith says.
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