The Missing Synergy:
The value of a collaborative team is defined by the synergy it creates when a team of professionals come together as a group and achieve greater results than any of them could individually. That synergy is lost when team members are improperly utilized in ways that prevent them from using their skill set to offer the most value they can in a given situation. Specifically, in many cases the Neutral Financial Professional is underutilized in 3 ways: 1) when used sporadically rather than consistently throughout the process, 2) when they are not expected to take an active role in interest-gathering, and 3) when they are insulated from the emotional dynamics of the parties, which deprives them of essential context for their financial conclusions. Can this synergy be restored?
Collaborative teams attempt to resolve potentially complex legal, financial, and logistical issues a couple faces as they negotiate a dissolution settlement. A Neutral Financial Professional is often utilized as a part of this group to provide financial analysis in areas such as business valuations, tax consequences of proposed courses of action, and forensic analysis of a financial record. While the attorneys and mental health facilitators are expected to add value at every stage of the process, the NFP is sometimes brought onto the team in the middle of the process or used “as needed” or in a limited capacity for the completion of specifically delineated tasks. This approach leaves value on the table as the team is prevented from reaching its full potential.
Interests, Not Positions:
One of the main goals of any collaborative team is to figure out the clients’ “interests,” an abstraction that underlies the specific positions or demands they bring to a negotiation. For example, demanding a certain amount of money would be a position, while the desire to feel financially secure may be an underlying interest that drives the demand psychologically. Understanding interests empowers the collaborative team to generate creative offers and counteroffers that help each spouse obtain the things they are truly interested in obtaining. This is often challenging as clients may be in touch with desiring certain things or outcomes without being in touch with why they want them. Interests are uncovered by astute professionals through discussions of various topics. Many of a person’s interests may be uncovered through discussions about money. Accordingly, the NFP has an essential role in discovering interests. How?
The NFP Role:
NFP’s are uniquely in a position to offer the central goals of the collaborative process – empowerment of the parties and confidence in their negotiated outcome going forward. A financial professional can use forensic accounting to analyze the mindset behind the financial decisions being made, they can assess the economic viability of proposed agreements, and they ultimately can propose options and financial solutions that no one else would have thought to suggest. Doing so will allow parties to feel like the collaborative process worked – that they will be on sound financial footing going forward, and that they reached an agreement that will work for them. But the NFP is more than an a la carte option who can be brought into financially complex divorce matters in the middle of a negotiation, towards the end after most issues have been settled, or in and out as financial questions arise. They are not mere calculators who get called in to perform some calculations and then get put back in a pocket. The information the NFP gathers can become part of a broader calculation.
The Synergy is Restored:
The team’s synergy is restored when the financial professional is empowered to use his or her financial expertise in the context of the dissolution as a whole. Being present in the process from the beginning can help the NFP calibrate their subsequent financial analysis. By observing even non-financial discussions, the NFP will be in a better position to generate insight into client interests than if they were analyzing finances in a vacuum. For example, the financial conclusion of the “viability” of a proposed agreement will include subjective as well as objective components. Not only do the numbers have to add up, but the agreement also has to account for the interests which cause money-related issues to become emotionally loaded. Interests such as a desire for retribution, feelings of entitlement, or fear of managing one’s own finances are often revealed over the course of the team meetings. Analysis of financial documents can contribute significant insights into the mental and emotional states and subsequent needs of both parties involved in the negotiation, but this insight must be understood within the broader context of the parties’ relationship. To fully understand and use that context requires the NFP to be present during all stages of the dissolution process.
The NFP ought to be involved from the beginning of the process, included in every team meeting, preparatory discussion, and exploratory debriefing. Expectations of involvement must also be developed, as NFP’s must be aware of the value they can potentially contribute to the team if properly utilized beyond the traditional role of crunching numbers. The NFP must be given the opportunity to understand the emotional dynamics of the parties, as well as the interests that underlie their financial positions, in order to integrate context into their financial conclusions. Such an expansive view of the role of the NFP will ensure that clients receive full value for the cost of assembling a team of professionals to resolve their marital conflicts.