I’m a Financial Neutral in the Collaborative Divorce Process.
I think you need some background, so let me explain…
When I first began my business, I didn’t know much about myself, and I started under the general guidelines I knew about free-lancing. Those being:
- Offer a service or product (the development phase).
- Put yourself out there and find clients (the marketing phase).
- Wait (the agonizing phase).
- Start working when the clients come in (“finally! the I’m in business”, phase).
- Complete the job (the satisfaction phase).
- Invoice the client ( the “ugh, I didn’t think about this part,” phase).
My first ventures were bookkeeping ventures as almost everyone needs a bookkeeper, and not many people out there offer bookkeeping services.
Then I added tax returns, collection services (sigh, yes), and grant writing to my repertoire. After that, I started to pick up work as a financial neutral in the collaborative divorce process.
It turns out there is a need for these types of services as, after two years, I had as many clients as I needed, and I no longer had to put myself out there (phew, says the introvert).
About two years ago, I started to realize that I was basically down to two lines of business: bookkeeping/tax return preparation and financial neutral services in the collaborative divorce process.
It was about this time that I started to notice that these two businesses, while sharing some similarities, also had many differences.
The similarities? They both involved numbers.
The differences? Where do I start?
Bookkeeping and tax return preparation is deadline-oriented.
Supporting people as they navigate their separation is not (despite their wishes that it be so).
There is a concrete product that I can show my bookkeeping and tax clients: “Look! A finalized bank reconciliation, bill paid, deposit recorded, or a filed tax return.”
No concrete finished product adequately demonstrates the work I do as a financial neutral. If you are going to say to me: “well surely, Renée, doesn’t the separation agreement signify the culmination of your work as a financial neutral?” I will answer back: “well, you might think so, but the separation agreement is not my product, it is the client’s agreement. Sometimes I spend a year working with a client before that client is anywhere near finalizing a separation agreement, if ever.”
Doing bookkeeping and tax work took a certain kind of training. I had to learn about debits and credits, how to do a bank reconciliation, how to navigate the online bookkeeping “apps” that are not designed for classically trained bookkeepers. Haha – yes, I’ve been “classically trained” in the traditional methodology of bookkeeping – who remembers green ledger paper? And tax rules. Lots of memorization shall we say.
Doing financial neutral work takes an entirely different kind of training. Altogether different. I had to unlearn all the communication rules I had learned from the age of zero to forty-two and relearn new tools that are still considered cutting-edge. I’ve developed an understanding of psychology and how brains work to support my clients while they are in the midst of the worst period of their lives.
I also feel like I’ve obtained a diploma in the field of self-help as I’ve learned both not to take things personally and to have compassion for the clients who are yelling at me because their ex-spouse and the law are not being fair. The bonus of this work mentioned above is that I’ve become better at billing.
Finally, I’ve had to learn how to be a coach and think of questions that will bring a client out of their current (usually bleak) state of mind and get them moving forward in a positive direction.
I have been thinking about this a lot lately — a lot.
I have been thinking about this because many of my financial neutral clients see me as the first type of product provider.
It is understandable, as the same society that trained me has trained my clients. I have also not been clear about what I do as a financial neutral. So here goes:
To be clear about what I do NOT do when working as a financial neutral:
- I do not give advice.
- I do not help assign blame.
- I do not offer guarantees about the future.
And to be about what I do when I’m working as a financial neutral:
- I listen to you to develop the work we need to do together.
- I help you collect and gather your financial information.
- I can work as the central hub/administrator for your separation process and cut down on duplication of effort by sharing information with all parties involved so that everyone has the same understanding and relevant information.
- I often share information that is other than financial. As the neutral professional on the file, I usually can see communication patterns that are going on between parties that are hurting the process and suggest strategies to communicate more productively.
- I help you gain an understanding of what your financial information means.
- I educate you about the tax laws that are relevant to your situation.
- I perform calculations and give you ESTIMATES, which are only as good as the numbers and information that go into building those estimates.
- I have a fantastic budget template that is easy to complete (if you can get over your fear of the word budget), and if you can’t finish it on your own, I will help and guide you to complete it.
- I can help you do a financial forecast to see what your financial future looks like based on your current life situation.
- I can be a cheerleader for you and help you think of ways to support yourself as you navigate the incredibly challenging separation and divorce process.
I’m sure I could sit here all day thinking about all the clients I have worked with for the past four years and come up with pages and pages of the different things I have helped with, but I won’t because I’ve already written too much (again!). So to sum up, when people ask me what I do as a financial neutral, I will say:
“I co-create engagements with every client to ensure that the work we do together will help that client create the life that they want for themselves post-separation.”