Separating and Don’t Understand Your Finances? Now What?

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By Debbie Hoffman at HD Collaborative Law

So, you came home today, walked through the front door, and your spouse blurted out “I want a divorce.”


You hadn’t even had the chance to take off your coat.

Separating and Don’t Understand Your Finances? Now What?

And now you’ve been up all night, unable to sleep, fretting about money.  Your mind is going a million miles an hour.  You know you have investments, but where are they?  You’ve never had to think about these things.  Your spouse has always been the one who looked after the money.  None of the bills are in your name.  You don’t have a separate credit card.  Will you be able to get one?  How are you going to pay the mortgage and the taxes?  Do you even have any savings?  What about retirement?  Your head starts to hurt and right now, all you can do is stare at the wall wondering how you’re going to make it to work in the morning because you have no ability to concentrate, and you certainly won’t be getting any sleep tonight.


So, now what?

There’s no way around it.  It’s going to take you a bit of time to come to terms with your separation.  It doesn’t matter if you’re the person who is leaving or the one who is being left.  You are entering uncharted territory, and it’s scary.  Separation from your partner is one of the most stressful situations you will ever face in your life.  Hands down.  And it’s hard to know where to start.

Here’s what you need to do.

You need to contact a Collaborative Law Professional (there is a whole group of us listed on our Members page).

There are three kinds of collaborative professionals, and it doesn’t matter which one of us you start with because we all work together with you and your spouse to make your financial and emotional separation as informed and painless as possible.

You can start with a collaborative lawyer.

You can start with a collaborative family professional – a person who is a counsellor or psychologist specifically trained in collaborative separation and divorce to help you navigate through parenting, lack of trust, or mental health issues.

Or, you might start with a collaborative financial professional who will help you and your spouse work through some of those financial questions that start racing through your brain every night just as you’re trying to fall to sleep.

No matter which type of collaborative professional you contact, we will ask you some questions and provide you with information about how you can achieve a peaceful separation by choosing a collaborative approach.  We will send you an information package and questionnaire and provide you with the same package to give to your spouse, or we will send it to him or her directly if that is more appropriate.

Why should you contact a collaborative professional?

One of the best reasons is the transparency of the process.  In the example above, when you’ve never been involved in your family finances, or paid the bills or made the investments, collaborative law allows you to obtain the information you need without going to court.  Both you and your spouse have access to your own family lawyer, but the beauty of this process is that it also gives you access to a neutral financial professional, someone you both choose who has the financial expertise you need to answer the questions that are most relevant to your personal situation.

Your lawyer will advise you about your legal rights and responsibilities and assist you in obtaining answers to your questions.  We will also help you figure out what questions to ask and help you uncover the legal areas you need to address with your financial professional:  financial support, asset division, business valuation, pension division, Canada Pension Plan credit splitting, etc.  We will help you make a list and check it twice.

When we’ve done that, you and your spouse will compare notes and tackle the tough issues together, with the assistance of your lawyers, your financial professional or the whole collaborative team, including the family professional.  That’s a lot of brain power focused on creating an outcome that is best for both of you, and your children, too, if you are parents.

What if you are the person who has paid the bills, made the investments, and socked away money for a rainy day? What’s in it for you?  Collaborative separations are typically less costly and more efficient than going to court because the process offers a streamlined way for you to provide the financial disclosure you are obligated by law to provide to your spouse when you separate.  In addition, you both work with one neutral financial person (instead of each hiring your own business valuator or financial planner or accountant).  Working with one person saves you time and money and headaches.  You are both given the same information at the same time by the same person.  When you collaborate and share information, the chances of reaching the best solution for everyone in the shortest amount of time increase exponentially.  Not to mention the fact that you can both feel good about the solution because you’ve worked on it together with no hidden agenda.  As the person who has borne the burden of making the financial decisions and keeping the family financially secure, you can ease that burden by increasing your spouse’s awareness and financial knowledge, helping him or her take responsibility for their own financial future, and creating security and independence in the process.

You and your spouse can both be honest that you each want the best possible outcome for you.  No one will fault you for that.  And, unlike going to court, a good outcome for you doesn’t have to mean a bad outcome for your spouse.  Collaborative law provides the best way to educate yourself and your spouse about your finances, your obligations, your responsibilities, and your choices, so you can realistically meet your current needs and obligations and continue to plan for a secure financial future.


It’s evolved and it’s revolutionary and it works.

Separation is difficult.  Why make it harder and more expensive than it needs to be?

We’re here to help.