by Robert Bordett, CFP, CPFA
A financial neutral plays a very different role than that of an expert witness. A financial neutral is a person who, when working in divorce, becomes an educator. A financial neutral brings a unique blend of financial knowledge and mediation skills to the table and works with the couple to streamline the divorce process from a financial angle. You’re educating the clients, and sometimes the rest of the team, about the client’s financial situation. You’re making sure that everybody’s on the same level playing field, with the same information and the same knowledge. It’s important, as a neutral, to make sure that the clients understand that you don’t work for either one of them, that you’re there to facilitate the process.
When explaining my services to clients, I like to use the term “I don’t have a dog in this fight.” I’m there to make sure that everyone’s heard, that the clients are working within their comfort zone, and that they feel they can talk openly with the neutral. It’s important that clients know that they can ask questions, and that they don’t feel intimidated by anything.
It tends to work well if a financial neutral has had mediation training. You’re not acting as a mediator, but you’re using mediation skills. Some important skills for a neutral to have are how to read body language, and how to observe each party’s reactions to statements being made. The neutral helps to ensure that no one’s being upset accidentally and needs to be experienced with the communication process. A neutral needs to be able to listen without judgement, to empathize, and to assist both parties toward a resolution that they can live with.
The internet has become an incredible resource for parties planning to divorce. It’s now possible to reference divorce online, and people can gather more information than they had in the past. Previously, the traditional method of divorce was the only one available, and now, thanks to the internet, people are learning that they have options available to them. This food for thought helps my clients move through the divorce process more smoothly.
When planning to divorce, working with a financial neutral can be very beneficial. A financial neutral works for the good of the process, not for the benefit of either party in the divorce. For this reason, the neutral may end up acting on behalf of the divorce team. The team may come to the neutral and use them as the voice of reality to the clients, so that neither attorney ends up upsetting the other side, but allows the financial neutral to pass on the information. In my first meeting with clients, I take the time to explain what a financial neutral is, so that the clients don’t just assume I handle finances. Instead, I’m a neutral party that’s working for the process, while not working for either party. The financial neutral is there to help facilitate a difficult process and helps clients in a real time of need.