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Advisor Helps Divorcing Women, Extends Franchise Nationwide

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Men can certainly be jerks. Of course, women don’t have a monopoly on character either, but certain scenarios reveal a uniquely male potential for nastiness.

Take, for example, a divorcee named Sallie, whose ex-husband after seven years of marriage asked for a divorce, complaining she “had gained too much weight and was no longer a trophy wife.”

Or, take Karen, whose former husband she had thought of as her “best friend.” Yet after years building a successful business together, her “best friend” completely blindsided her when he told her he “fell in love” with a girl he met in a bar — after only 36 hours — during a business trip abroad.

Then there are the brutes, like Anne’s controlling ex-husband, who insisted she look and dress a certain way, challenged her personal decisions and eventually deprived her of access to their finances … and car.

Or Margaret’s ex, who — after she was diagnosed with breast cancer — told her he wanted someone younger and healthier with whom to share his life.

All these women were shattered by these cruel ex-husbands, but found a measure of solace and a way out through a Second Saturday, an all-volunteer program providing women with information about the legal, emotional and financial aspects of divorce.

While men naturally divorce as much as women do, the female orientation of the program is by design.

“Often what we have found is that women, when they’re in a group with men, don’t ask the questions they have,” says financial advisor Candace Bahr, who with CPA Ginita Wall has been running these workshops for 26 years. Moreover, she continues, “women in a group of other women create a sense of community that allows them to speak freely.”

While the group occasionally offers workshops for men, the emphasis on women has been primary because the need is generally greater.

“Often, because the male takes more control of the finances and the woman often is not as involved, her lack of experience and naiveté and her [propensity] to make nice and not stand up for what she needs to stand up for can put her in a position where she does not get what she is entitled to,” Bahr tells ThinkAdvisor.

Herself happily married for almost 36 years — 35 of which she and her husband have worked together as investment advisors — the principal of the LPL-affiliated Bahr Investment Group has carried out her Second Saturday workshops to help women in need; but she acknowledges it has also been a “huge feeder” to her business, based in Carlsbad, California.

As she reckons it, of the average of 30 women she sees each month, “maybe one or two will become a client, but I’ve helped 28 others [pro bono].”

So Bahr has helped more than 10,000 women over the years, but in the meantime has built a successful female-oriented niche advisory business with $114 million in assets under management.

The LPL advisor estimates that 70% of her group’s clients are single women, of whom 70% have gone through divorce and the other 30% are widows.

The divorce workshops are conducted by volunteers in three areas, addressing women’s basic legal, emotional and financial questions.

The $45 fee the women pay (waived in cases of extreme need) is all donated to three nonprofit organizations helping women, one of which Bahr herself co-founded: the Women’s Institute for Financial Education (wife.org), which seeks to empower women around money issues.

“It’s an opportunity to give back,” she says of the divorce workshops, “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.”

Bahr wants to make that differentiation opportunity available to advisors across the country, as a means of building their businesses while helping more women in these difficult life situations.

She and Wall have put together a sort of franchise program with a written manual, one-on-one training and monthly phone support for financial advisors who want to establish their own Second Saturday territory.

They’ve already set up 60 throughout the country and their goal is to have 500 by next year “so that Second Saturday will be within a one-hour drive of anyone in the United States,” she says.

Affiliates pay $2,200 the first year, then $100 a month starting in the second year.

While many of the attendees are down and out, because divorce is so pervasive in American society, the population served by wealth managers — that is, the wealthy — are usually there as well.

“We’ve literally had people living out of a car sitting next to somebody dividing a $25 million estate,” Bahr says, adding that the a woman dividing a $130 million estate has also participated in the $45 workshop.

“Divorce is the great equalizer,” she soberly intones.

The trauma of divorce typically leaves women in a heightened state of emotion for which the professional’s calm and rational approach is the antidote.

“I’m working with a potential client right now … She is so distraught that she cannot think rationally about her situation.”

Indeed, the woman, who stands to receive about $3.5 million, has been asked by her attorney to find another legal professional to help her because she has acceded to various agreements, then changed her mind.

Bahr says the woman’s suspicion that her husband is hiding assets has deepened her lack of tranquility, so the advisor is (in addition to working with the prospect’s forensic accountant) working to keep the 62-year-old focused on the basics: how to maintain her standard of living over the next 30 to 35 years.

The Second Saturday programs address general-type questions that a woman would have to learn very expensively if her first highly distracted and tear-soaked meeting were with a divorce attorney, whose rates in Southern California typically range from $400 to $700 an hour, Bahr says.

Women learn basics such as what is a retainer; can they do a divorce without a professional’s help; how do they deal with a hostile spouse; how do they help their children deal with the changes; should they keep their house; how do they deal with retirement.

“This is not just about the law,” Bahr says. “The law is simply the way to untie the knot; what really concerns people going through divorce is the children and the money.”

A divorcing spouse focused on keeping her home, for example, may not fully grasp the impact that decision would have on her prospects for eventual retirement.

“We have to show women … and help them understand … the ramifications of those decisions down the road when they may not be able to change their marital settlement agreement.

“For so many women, they know what they’re getting out of but don’t know what they’re getting into” without solid professional advice, Bahr says.

One newly divorcing woman was so eager to get that advice that when her car broke down on the I-5 freeway, she abandoned the car and walked to the workshop.

“This is still a relatively new field but it is an area that, if you develop expertise, you will be able to differentiate yourself and be able to make a significant difference in people’s lives,” Bahr concludes. “This stuff really matters.”

— Check out Divorce Planner’s Novel Approach Leads to Lucrative Business on ThinkAdvisor.