Tracy Stewart
Tracy Stewart
Value-Added Service for Your Divorcing Clients
Be a hero to your clients by showing them alternatives to an expensive divorce.

December 15, 2011
by Tracy Stewart, CPA, PFS

Our clients would probably appreciate more predictability and control in their lives. But that’s never easy when it comes to a divorce. And while you may not have a crystal ball, you can give your clients a few tips about what to expect.

As a trusted business adviser you can first suggest marriage counseling. Many spouses refuse to go to counseling for several reasons. “Listen to their reasons and encourage them to save their marriage. But if counseling isn’t the answer, talk with them about their divorce-process options.

Tell them about the nasty, expensive divorces you have seen from the sidelines. Encourage rational thought processes. Offer to be a sane, mature sounding board on financial issues to both of them, but remember to stay neutral.

Is Litigation the Answer?

Encourage your clients to stay away from an expensive litigation process. In traditional divorce litigation, your clients can spend thousands of dollars on attorneys and dueling experts preparing for a trial that might never happen.

In the re-engineered divorce process, known as collaborative law, the entire divorce budget goes toward settlement efforts. Each spouse has own attorney and the experts work as neutrals, siding with neither spouse. Most cases only need one financial professional. If another is needed, such as a business-valuation expert, this is also a joint and neutral engagement.

The objective in litigation is beating the other side. Battles are won when one side takes advantage of the other side’s errors. This kind of behavior feeds anxiety. Reaching a mutually agreeable settlement that addresses the spouses’ shared and competing goals is the plan in collaborative law. This is accomplished in part with interest-based negotiation, which focuses on both spouses’ interests and not their relative power.

In traditional litigation divorce, clients rarely know what is around the corner. Perhaps their attorneys are informing them and they are just too devastated or angry to comprehend. Perhaps their attorneys are so accustomed to the maneuvers that they forget to explain the next steps. Court hearing deadlines lurch into view with clients feeling the ground beneath them shifting.

Divorce litigation processes are not designed to use time-tested steps to keep everyone on the same page. Things often only get hopping when one spouse turns up the heat. The other spouse may not be prepared to move forward. This can cause decisions to be made under emotional pressure, which does not foster long-lasting agreements.

Collaborative Process Is an Option

Collaborative divorce uses a formal road map. Periodically, the collaborative attorneys pull out the road map and point to where they are in the process. This helps avoid misperceptions, misunderstandings and the resulting emotional turmoil. Collaborative meetings have agendas. Every meeting is limited to manageable time, such as, two hours. Meetings are scheduled to work within the clients’ business and personal commitments.

The collaborative road map includes a six-step process to resolve conflict:

  1. Establishing ground rules by signing the collaborative law participation agreement.
  2. Determining each person’s goals and interests and concerns.
  3. Gathering information that could be part of negotiations for either or both parties.
  4. Brainstorming settlement options and solutions.
  5. Evaluating those options and solutions.
  6. Negotiating and selecting the option that best meets as many of the individuals’ shared and competing goals as possible.


If your clients are considering divorce, you can suggest they investigate the collaborative divorce process as a way to keep predictability and control in their lives. You cannot guarantee these qualities, but you can provide value-added service by sharing some ideas about collaborative law, a divorce process that offers unparalleled flexibility in dealing with a hazy future. You and your clients can learn more about collaborative law divorce here.

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Tracy B. Stewart, CPA, PFS, CFP, CDFA specializes in family law litigation support in Houston, Texas. She helps clients protect their wealth during property settlement negotiations. She is a member of the AICPA Personal Financial Planning and the Forensic and Valuation Services sections. Stewart is a board trustee for the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas as well as on the Executive Board of Texas Society of CPAs. You can contact her through www.texasdivorcecpa.com.

* The AICPA’s Personal Financial Planning Section is the premier provider of information, tools, advocacy and guidance for CPAs who specialize in providing estate, tax, retirement, risk management and investment planning advice to individuals and closely held entities. The Personal Financial Planning Section is open to all Regular Members, Associate Members and Non-CPA Section Associate Members of the AICPA. If you are a CPA who wants to demonstrate your expertise in this subject matter, become a Personal Financial Specialist Credential holder. Visit www.aicpa.org/PFP to learn more.