By Marian Gage, Family Law Lawyer
Focus on…a Financial Professional
Money is a big concern for separating families who are now looking at the possibility of supporting two households, paying legal fees, moving fees, counselling costs and more with the family income that once supported the one household before the separation. What to do?
As a Collaborative lawyer I find it beneficial, sometimes essential, to work with a neutral financial professional.
Jo-Anne Fiore is a Financial Divorce Specialist, meaning she is one of a growing group of financial professionals who have been specifically trained in financial matters involving separation and divorce. She has worked in financial services for more than 25 years. Additionally, she is an Accredited Family Mediator (Ontario Association of Family Mediation).
As a financial professional Jo-Anne works as a member of the Collaborative “team” to help separating spouses come to a resolution of their financial matters.
“I work neutrally with both people. We discuss their interests from a financial point of view in the process and I help them so they know what they’re up against. They know what some of the issues are and now we can see where they sit from a legal standpoint,” Jo-Anne explained.
The financial professional can assist at all stages in the process. In the beginning Jo-Anne will help gather information for the purpose of making financial disclosure. She has prepared clients by working with them to complete tax filings where they are behind in filing returns. She will review net family property statements and analyze them to see that they meet both parties’ interests.
“I do a lot of analyzing, forecasting, looking at options,” says Jo-Anne, “ ‘Can I keep my home?’ …’If I keep my home for the next five years because I want the kids to stay in it, what does that look like for me?’ ”
When the process is near the end Jo-Anne helps with what she calls, “closing the circle” to see that the right steps are taken on signing an agreement. She helps clients with CPP credit splitting, filing the tax returns, and generally, “making sure we complete the financial pieces that are often left to the client, who sometimes walk away and forget about it.”
Sometimes clients express the concern that the “team approach” we use in the Collaborative process will increase costs because of the number of professionals involved. Jo-Anne says in fact it’s the opposite and she sees a “definite cost savings” where a financial professional is involved early on:
“Any time you’re working with me you are sharing my costs with the other person. And my cost is maybe three or four times cheaper than sitting with a legal professional who may not be as familiar with the financial information. You go into the collaborative forum prepared, and able to let your lawyers do what they need to do legally on your behalf rather than wasting time and money doing what they’re not equipped to do.”
With her financial background, what made the Collaborative process so appealing to Jo-Anne?
“After 26 years of face to face client interaction as a banker, seeing the devastation of separation and what happens when they were making poor financial decisions that affected their future…I looked at the FDS designation and built my business model around it and then Collaborative was the next step because that environment is really good for families, it helps preserve relationships and we can help them make decisions they feel good about.”