From the November 2016 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

What Does Divorce Really Cost?

Women considering divorce know what they’re getting out of, but need an advisor’s help to understand what they’re getting into

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Divorce is often seen as a solution, but it brings its own set of new problems. (Photo Illustration: Chris Nicholls) Divorce is often seen as a solution, but it brings its own set of new problems. (Photo Illustration: Chris Nicholls)

“The abuse [became] worse over the last couple of years. Especially the verbal abuse — it’s very demeaning and demoralizing. I was thinking I wasn’t even a person anymore,” Anne, a forty-ish Californian, confesses shakily to financial advisor Ginita Wall. “When I ran across Second Saturday on the internet, everything I read just clicked with me. I said, ’This is what I need. This is my way out of here.’”

That video interview, posted on SecondSaturday.com, explains better than any statistic why a workshop program created by two San Diego-area financial planners has become a beacon for women contemplating divorce.

“Second Saturday: What Everyone Needs to Know About Divorce,” a program started in 1989 by Wall and Candace Bahr, both Certified Divorce Financial Analysts, gives advisors an opportunity to help women like Anne move toward a new life, while potentially building their own businesses.

Divorce Is About More Than Money

When Wall moved to the San Diego area from New Mexico, her interest in women’s financial empowerment led to a meeting with Certified Divorce Financial Analyst Bahr, a principal in Carlsbad, California’s Bahr Investment Group.

The two discovered a shared desire to create a space where women could learn about finances in a safe, noncommercial and unbiased environment. Together they founded the nonprofit Women’s Institute for Financial Education (WIFE.org), dedicated to women’s financial education and independence. Starting with a series of seminars on cash flow, solo money management and funding college education, they created a national network of Money Clubs (MoneyClubs.com), promoting face-to-face and online get-togethers for women to discuss important money topics.

In 1989, inspired by a local newspaper article about financial issues faced by women going through divorce, Wall (by then a CFP and CDFA) and Bahr decided to do something about it. “We proposed a curriculum to MiraCosta College,” Bahr said. Meeting on the second Saturday of every month for the past 27 years, the five-hour course has helped more than 10,000 women considering divorce. 

Why Second Saturday’s focus on women? Too often, Bahr said, a wife is in the dark about family finances. If her marriage heads for the rocks, she may have no idea what she’s entitled to. As in Anne’s case, underlying emotions can also make her too distraught to think straight. The workshop format is a natural way to inform and educate this audience, supported by research findings that women tend to learn better in groups without men present. (Several Second Saturday programs also conduct workshops for men.)

Conducted entirely by volunteers, Second Saturday workshops address the basic legal, emotional and financial issues of divorce, drawing on the know-how of professionals in all three areas. The mission: to provide the knowledge, support, resources and trust women need in these difficult life situations.

They still run the workshop every second Saturday at MiraCosta College, a public community college north of San Diego. Now in its third decade, it continues to draw 20 to 55 women a month from as far away as Phoenix.

In 2014, the two founders decided to roll out Second Saturday by offering it as a marketing opportunity for financial advisors and attorneys around the country. So far the program has been presented in 130 locations, according to Wall.

Conducting one of these workshops is “an opportunity to give back,” Bahr said in a ThinkAdvisor.com interview with Gil Weinreich last year, “but it’s also an opportunity as an advisor to differentiate yourself from everybody else out there by giving back in a very different way.”

A Template for Successful Divorce 

The San Diego workshops have been open to everyone. “Our ideal participant is a woman contemplating divorce or in the early stages of divorce, when our program can save them as much time, money and emotional distress as possible,” Bahr told us. Typically, half the attendees are simply deciding whether or not to call it quits with their spouses.

Given enough lead time, prospective workshop leaders are likely to find that news of an upcoming workshop goes viral. “Mostly [participants] hear about it via word of mouth — their therapist, their hairdresser, their friends,” Bahr said. “We don’t require pre-registration, because no one can predict when they are going to be in crisis.”

Saying “it’s important to us that our sessions are affordable,” she explained that the San Diego workshop’s $45 fee is reduced or waived for anyone who can’t pay. Sometimes people need to attend several times to gather information as they decide on the appropriate course to take, so the charge for a second, third or fourth visit is only $25. After the fifth time, it’s free. “We’ve had people attend up to nine times — our record so far,” Bahr said.

All proceeds are donated to nonprofit organizations helping women. In 27 years, the original San Diego workshop has raised nearly $400,000 for scholarships, additional programs for women at MiraCosta College and free information for women through WIFE.org’s website and network of Money Clubs.

Partnering With Other Professionals

When an advisor signs up to conduct a Second Saturday workshop, WIFE provides a QuickStart package designed to help get the first session rolling within a month. The annual licensing fee includes an operating manual and syllabus, coaching by phone and ongoing Best Practices conference calls among workshop leaders. A dedicated group page on LinkedIn allows advisors to ask questions, get marketing ideas and improve their presentations.

The licensing fees are currently $2,950 for the first year and $1,600 for each subsequent year. In some cases, Wall noted, financial advisors work with a participating law firm to defray part of the fee or expenses. Installment payment plans are also available.

Each workshop leader has the latitude to modify the San Diego program formula. For example, they might offer the workshop for free or set a higher admission fee. “Usually, they follow our recommendations,” Wall said. “It’s not a franchise, so we don’t require others to do it exactly our way. But we do monitor all the workshops through evaluations.”

The key requirement is to line up a qualified divorce attorney and mental health counselor, along with a divorce mediator. Typically, local professionals are willing to contribute their time and expertise pro bono. “People do this to get business, to network with other professionals in their community and to benefit the community by serving women well,” Wall explained. 

To qualify to conduct a Second Saturday workshop, an advisor must have been actively working as a licensed or credentialed professional for at least three years. Also:

  • Preference is given to applicants holding divorce-related professional designations, such as Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) for financial professionals or Family Law Legal Specialist for attorneys.
  • Bahr and Wall carefully review each applicant’s regulatory and complaint history. If in financial services, you must be in compliance with regulatory requirements of the SEC, state securities regulators in states where you do business, and self-regulatory bodies. If in another profession, you must be in good standing with the regulatory bodies for that profession.
  • You must be in good standing with the standards of the firm with which you are affiliated.
  • You must not have been convicted of a felony.

The following criteria are also considered in determining whether you are authentically committed to supporting people through divorce:

  • Your education and professional designations
  • Educational programs and events you provide for clients
  • Your record of community service

How Second Saturday Workshops Work

The five-hour Second Saturday workshop covers four topic areas:

Legal aspects of divorce. This presentation is given by an attorney who covers the divorce process: how to protect yourself legally and financially, the costs of divorce, child custody, and child and spousal support. “We provide a divorce checklist that helps participants use expensive sessions with their own attorney more efficiently,” Bahr said.

Family issues. In this module, a therapist, family counselor or psychologist explores such emotional issues as how to deal with a hostile spouse, helping your family cope with the stress of divorce and rebuilding self-esteem.

Financial issues. Wall has developed a presentation called “The 12 Financial Pitfalls of Divorce” that covers how to approach divorce (as a problem to be solved, not a war to be won) and prepare for it. Attendees learn about records they need to gather, the consequences of how property is divided, basic tax considerations regarding selling or keeping the house, and the impact of these decisions on retirement planning. A 15-minute question and answer session follows.

Ten-minute breaks between these presentations encourage participants to converse with one another. “We hear very frequently that folks are relieved to talk with others in similar situations and realize they’re not alone,” Bahr observed.

Avoiding divorce court. This last presentation, given by a divorce mediator, covers mediated divorce, short-form divorce and collaborative divorce.

Changing Women’s Lives

“Most people think of divorce as a solution, not as a situation that creates another set of problems,” Bahr said. “A lot of the workshop combines an empowerment talk — ‘You can do it!’ — with what steps you need to take and what you should avoid.”

Fortunately, not every wife is in Anne’s position, with an angry, controlling husband (now her ex) who took away her money, refused to let her use the car and told her not to talk to neighbors. But no matter why a woman is contemplating divorce, Second Saturday can make a difference. As Anne later told Wall, “You taught me so much, and it completely changed my life.”

“Second Saturday has become a mission for me,” said Wall, who has organized her life around giving some 300 Second Saturday presentations to date. “My ultimate goal is to have 500 Second Saturdays around the country, so that a workshop is an hour’s drive away for everyone.”

“So many participants say things like, ‘I don’t know what I would have done without this workshop,’” Bahr agreed. “It’s very easy to be passionate about something when you see the impact it makes.”

We think the widespread need for this program, and its benefits for advisors who are willing to reach out to these women, can make it a true win-win opportunity for all concerned. If you’d like to know more about offering a Second Saturday workshop, visit SecondSaturday.com.

--- Read Collaborative Divorce: A Win-Win Dissolution on ThinkAdvisor.

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