The three words to keep in mind when it comes to dealing with divorcing clients are: Listen, listen, listen.

“I feel like a therapist sometimes,” says Patricia Barrett, one of the five speakers on the Remember the Alimony panel of divorce experts at the Women Advisors Forum in Dallas. “I took mediation training at the University of Houston School of Law. They really emphasized listening, looping back and repeating back to people. That’s been extremely helpful to me in dealing with these folks.”

Barrett, a Certified Financial Planner, is the founder of Lifetime Planning in Houston, Texas and a certified divorce financial analyst. She has worked with more than 300 divorcing couples.

Other advice to keep in mind when working with divorcing clients:

  • Men love it when you help turn the process into a business decision, according to Barrett. “Get them to think about how their relationship with their children could be affected by a battle.”
  • Remember not to give legal advice, a function reserved solely for the lawyers, says Cathy Threadgill, a former paralegal who became a CDFA and is based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “Sometimes it can be very hard not to cross that line and you have to be very careful,” she says.
  • Most wives want to retain the family home in a divorce and it’s often not a good idea. “These women who haven’t been working can’t qualify to take over the mortgage on that house,” says Sharon Washburn, a CDFA and a financial planning specialist with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. Threadgill says, “nine out of ten times that’s not the best asset to take.” A better choice, according to the panelists, are pure financial ones.
  • Obtaining a CDFA designation is a process that typically takes between three and 18 months.
  • Set strong personal and professional limits when dealing with clients who are divorcing. “You cannot cannot cannot bring it home,” Threadgill says. “You may love your clients to death but it is their problem that you cannot take onto yourself.”
  • Prepare your clients for inevitable compromise. “Your client is probably not going to get everything they want or think they will deserve,” Threadgill says. “You will never be able to please everybody in a divorce.”


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