Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook: Keep your divorce out of the courtroom if you canBy MIKE COTE
April 15. 2018 12:07AM
The youngest of Sally Boyle's four sons was 3 years old when she unexpectedly found herself facing divorce. While she remembers the initial proceedings as difficult but "OK," she and her former husband relitigated their case twice after the divorce became final before closing the books on their parting.
Nearly two decades later, Boyle wishes she had handled it differently.
The Hanover-based certified financial planner (SJBoyleWealthPlanning.com) recently published a primer designed to help others weather a marital breakup and avoid the pitfalls that divorcing couples face when emotions cloud their decision making.
While the circumstances of her divorce were difficult, Boyle says a lack of perceived choices also played a role.
"Part of that I think had to do with the people involved, but part of it had to do with the fact that I had no idea that I had other options," Boyle said in a recent phone interview. "I wasn't aware of mediation. Collaborative divorce was really quite new 18 years ago. That was probably not on a lot of people's radar screens."
In a collaborative divorce, the divorcing parties gather in a room with attorneys, mental health professionals and financial consultants to collaborate on a plan that can resolve their differences without a court battle.
"Deconstructing Divorce: Taking the Mystery Out of Divorce and its Impact on Your Family, Finances and Future" examines such options as well as litigation. Boyle is quite familiar with the latter path. Her advice: Avoid it if you can.
"Litigation is the most devastating way to divorce," Boyle said. "Part of (the inspiration for the book) was to just give people a one-stop source to learn about divorce before they go hire a professional to help them. Because so often when you go to that professional, much like (you do) with a surgeon, you will get their particular bias in terms of the recommendations. I think if you are better educated about your options, you'll seek out that professional that maybe has experience in the option that is your preferred option."
In her work as a financial planner, Boyle has encountered clients coming to her for guidance after their divorce settlements. Their stories inspired her to produce a short book - 175 pages - that addresses uncontested and litigated divorces, mediation, custody, alimony and child support, debt, taxes, retirement accounts and business interests.
"What I realized - as (clients) came to me - was that they had made the same mistakes that I had made," Boyle said. She concluded that books already on the market didn't offer a comprehensive view. Those written by mental health professionals, for example, tend to focus on the psychological side of divorce; while attorney authors present the legal side of divorce.
Boyle wanted to write a book that offered a comprehensive view of divorce that also draws from her personal experience. While she focuses on the nuts and bolts of what people facing divorce need to know, she shares knowledge she learned the hard way - which included making "some fairly major mistakes."
"So often we as professionals kind of hold ourselves out as knowledgeable but not always approachable. And I think in divorce you're so vulnerable, particularly emotionally, that sometimes you just want to think that the person across the table from you really understands how you're feeling," Boyle said. "And I felt the only way to exemplify that was to share my experiences."
Boyle does that without bitterness, offering examples from her divorce only when they help illustrate a topic. Before she published the book, she had her former husband read it to ensure she was being fair. He did not request any changes.
"Even the parts that were the most difficult parts for us, my intention in the book was to take responsibility for how it affected me emotionally, and then (show how) maybe my decisions were incorrect," she said. "That was really the intention, and I think he probably saw that."
After their divorce, Boyle and her former husband revisited nearly every aspect of their original settlement over two more court battles.
"That second and then the third time - I spent an enormous amount of money in court," she said.
Boyle recommends not following her example.
"I always say that's one of your kids' college tuition. Do you want to spend it on your children or would you like to spend it with attorneys?" Boyle said. "It's not just the financial side of it. It's such a bad way to communicate with one another through two representatives. There's so much that gets lost in the translation."
Finding a way to remain civil with your soon-to-be former spouse pays big dividends, both in how you might fair financially and how you and your family will weather the transition emotionally.
"If you can find a way to somehow maintain your direct communication during your process, I just think it makes sense," Boyle said.
The goal is to arrive at a settlement that considers the long view as you will have to live with these decisions for the rest of your life, Boyle said.
"Even though I had a 3 year old, I wasn't looking five, 10, 15 years forward. And I wish someone would have encouraged me to do that."
Contact Business Editor Mike Cote at 206-7724 or firstname.lastname@example.org.