You've recently been served notice of a divorce petition filed by your spouse.
So far, you've done all the right things: You've interviewed a few attorneys, hired one you feel comfortable with, and you're gathering up the information they've asked you to put together.
Everything seems right on track.
Until you have a question about money.
“How does the pension work?” you ask.
Your attorney is a divorce professional. Certainly, they should be able to answer this question, right?
Let's start with what your attorney is trained in: the law.
The typical JD program requires between 65 and 90 hours of coursework to complete.
But your attorney will not have studied finance.
Your attorney will likely have studied contracts, property, procedure, torts, legal skills and strategies, constitutional law, criminal law, and statutory interpretation.
But they will not have studied finance.
Nowhere in the legal curriculum will you see a required class in finance, much less personal finance.
Now let's look at your attorney's experience.
They will have likely completed additional training so they can specialize in family law.
This might come in the form of working for a more senior family law practitioner as either a junior attorney or paralegal.
They will have drafted divorce petitions, made motions, drafted and responded to requests for discovery, and guided clients through mediation.
Your attorney will have (hopefully) worked on a variety of family law cases with all manner of issues.
But once again, their experience will largely be legal in nature, with little (if any) hands-on financial work.
Training + experience = expertise.
Your attorney should absolutely be an expert in the law, and in family law in particular.
Your attorney is your legal advocate and representative.
They are a legal specialist.
What they aren't qualified to do is address questions that require financial expertise.
They have no training and likely lack experience in the area of financial planning.
It's a bit like using your kitchen shears to cut a steak.
You might be able to do it - but is it wise?
Protecting What Matters
It's also in everyone's best interest for your attorney to stick to what they know.
If they unknowingly give you financial guidance that isn't correct, two bad things could happen:
First, you might end up with a negative outcome in your divorce.
Second, if that outcome was due to your attorney's poor financial advice due to lack of expertise, you might file a malpractice suit.
No one wants either of these scenarios to happen.
The Right Stuff
Ok, but you still have financial questions related to your divorce.
What are you supposed to do now?
For questions that require financial expertise that your attorney can't (read: shouldn't) answer, you've got options.
If the question is simple, a quick consultation with an expert may be all you need.
If the question is more complex, or if you have many questions, you need to retain a financial expert.
Fortunately, your attorney likely has a rolodex full of financial experts with all sorts of specializations whom they can call on as needed.
Before you lean too heavily on your legal expert for financial advice, consider whether you need a financial expert like a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst™ (CDFA®), CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ Professional (CFP®), Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Business Valuation Specialist, or Forensic Accountant.
Not sure which kind of expert you need?
Watch our video below to learn more about the 4 Experts to Hire During a Divorce
A financial expert like me who specializes in divorce can help figure out exactly what questions need answering, as well as who is best qualified to answer them.
Adding another expert may feel like just another expense in an already expensive process.
But in the end, using the right tool for the job will save you time, money, mistakes, and heartache.
Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc. does not give tax or legal advice.