What Kind of Mediator Do You Want for Your Divorce?

Complexities of Child Support | TruNorth Divorce

Did you know that there are basically three kinds of divorce mediators? There are lawyer mediators, therapist mediators, and financial mediators. 

Most people new to divorce think first of lawyer mediators. Lawyers are experts at navigating divorce through the courts: filing petitions, presenting at hearings, filing motions, and arguing cases before hearing officers and judges. If you’re meditating your divorce, though, there isn’t much that a lawyer can bring to the table other than knowledge of the filing procedure and state guidelines and these are readily available to all. Lawyers aren’t allowed to provide the couple with legal advice, either. Regardless of your choice in mediators, it’s a good idea to hire an attorney as a consultant to get legal advice and review your settlement agreement before signing.

Second, therapist mediators are specially trained in various mental health areas and are useful as divorce mediators when there are special circumstances, e.g., complex custody issues or personality disorders. They do not possess financial expertise, nor can they help with legal documents or divorce processing. On the other hand, you may want to utilize a divorce coach to help you stay on track throughout the divorce process and be more effective in your negotiations.

Financial mediators, specifically Certified Divorce Financial Analysts® or CDFA-mediators, bring divorce financial expertise to the table, helping couples determine an optimal divorce settlement. They can provide the couple with financial advice that neither lawyers nor therapists are equipped to do. Working with a financial mediator facilitates:

  • Properly identifying and valuing marital vs. separate property
  • Understanding the tax implications of various settlement options
  • Evaluating settlement options, including support and division of assets, on both short-term and long term criteria, specifically whether there will be sufficient cash to pay the bills in the next few years and whether there will be enough wealth to fund longer term goals like retirement.

So be aware that there is more than one type of mediator option and that your first leaning may not be the best choice for your situation. Book a complimentary, private consultation to learn more.

Why a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst is Essential to an Optimal Financial Settlement

A couple’s finances constitute a large component of their divorce and can bring significant anxiety and stress. Most wonder how support will be determined, how marital property should be divided, whether they’ll have to divide their pensions or retirement accounts, and more. Unlike any other divorce professional, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA®) is uniquely equipped to address these issues.

What does a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) do?

A Certified Divorce Financial Analyst is a professional equipped with specialized knowledge in financial matters related to divorce. These experts undergo rigorous training and examination to earn their certification, making them well-versed in the intricacies of divorce finances.

CDFA’s help individuals and couples determine an optimal financial settlement agreement that helps answer the questions “will I have enough to pay my bills after the divorce” and “in the future, will I have sufficient net worth to meet my longer term objectives?” Assets are not all alike and shouldn’t necessarily be split 50/50 down the middle. Assets may be a mix of marital (subject to division) and separate, they have varying tax consequences, impact on cash flow, and rates of return. Thus, optimal settlements take into account taxes (income and capital gains), accurate valuations, and determination of what is marital vs. separate, and the short-term impact on cash flow, as well as the longer-term impact on future wealth. 

A CDFA can also help determine the right level of child support and alimony needed for the lesser-earning spouse to meet their post-divorce budgets. In most states, child support is based on state legislature guidelines based on the parents’ incomes, but they are just guidelines and only provide minimums. Alimony is a subjective determination based on a variety of factors including age, earning potential, and likelihood of future inheritances.

Benefits of Working with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst

A CDFA empowers individuals to make informed financial decisions, avoid common pitfalls, and ultimately secure a more stable and equitable post-divorce future post-divorce. Let’s look more closely at some of the benefits of working with a CDFA.

1. Inform Financial Settlement Decisions

In essence, the CDFA acts as a financial compass during the divorce process, steering individuals and couples towards informed choices that guide them toward their future true north. This clarity goes beyond a mere snapshot; it extends to a detailed examination of their short and long-term priorities and goals along with an exploration of assets, debts, income streams, and potential future financial scenarios.

A CDFA’s focus on long-term financial planning is a forward-looking approach that transcends the turbulence of divorce proceedings. It ensures that clients not only secure a fair divorce settlement but also position themselves for a stable and prosperous financial future, laying the groundwork for a new chapter with confidence and foresight.

Cash flow is typically an immediate concern and a significant source of anxiety. So, the first step is to get a snapshot of the current financial situation,  including current spending. From there, the CDFA helps clients build a post-divorce budget based on their specific objectives and priorities. Next comes identifying future financial goals, e.g., buying a house, funding children’s or grandchildren’s educations, and retirement. We are then able to look at how various support and marital property division scenarios will affect their ability to meet these goals. The outcome of these exercises allows divorcing individuals and couples to make informed settlement decisions. Lawyers, judges, and courts don’t provide that kind of information and blind settlement decisions lead to lost opportunities and highly consequential financial mistakes. 

2. Safeguard Financial Assets and Income 

The Certified Divorce Financial Analyst’s role in asset protection becomes a linchpin in fostering financial resilience and ensuring that clients can embark on the next chapter of their lives with a robust and safeguarded financial foundation. Most divorcing couples avoid the possibility that alimony and child support could terminate upon the provider’s incapacitation or death. CDFA’s will work with you to determine if an alimony buyout will be in your best interests and examine such safeguards as purchasing life and disability insurance or establishing a trust for the children to reduce the risk of a financially catastrophic event.


Here’s a detailed example to illustrate the potential mistake of opting for periodic alimony payments over a one-time alimony buyout.

  • Spouse A earns significantly more than Spouse B.
  • The settlement options include alimony payments or a one-time alimony buyout.
Option 1: Periodic Alimony Payments
  • Alimony Agreement: Spouse A pays Spouse B $3,000 per month for 10 years.
  • Total Alimony Paid Over 10 Years: $3,000 x 12 months x 10 years = $360,000.
Financial Implications for Spouse A
  • Income Stream: Regular monthly payments provide a steady income.
  • Inflation: The value of the $3,000 monthly payment will decrease over time due to inflation.
  • Dependency: Financial dependency on Spouse B for the duration of the alimony payments.
  • Risk: If Spouse B’s financial situation changes (e.g., loss of job, disability), the payments might be reduced or terminated.
Option 2: Alimony Buyout
  • Buyout Amount: A lump sum, let’s say $250,000, paid to Spouse A instead of periodic payments.
Financial Implications for Spouse A
  • Lump Sum: Immediate access to a significant amount of money.
  • Investment Opportunity: Potential to invest the lump sum in a diversified portfolio or other investment vehicles.
    • Example: Investing $250,000 with an average annual return of 5% for 10 years.
  • Tax Implications: Depending on jurisdiction and laws, the lump sum might have different tax implications than periodic payments.
  • Financial Independence: No dependency on Spouse A for future payments.
  • Inflation: The lump sum can be invested to potentially outpace inflation.
Potential Mistake in Choosing Periodic Payments
  • Opportunity Cost: Spouse B misses out on the potential growth of the lump sum investment.
  • Financial Risk: Relying on Spouse B’s ability to make future payments.
  • Inflation: Decreasing value of the $3,000 monthly payment.

If Spouse B opts for the alimony buyout and invests the $250,000 lump sum with an average annual return of 5%, after 10 years, this investment could grow to approximately $407,224. This amount significantly exceeds the total of $360,000 that would be received from periodic payments.

  • Lump Sum = $250,000
  • Rate = 5% (or 0.05)
  • Years = 10

Investment Growth: The lump sum investment option potentially offers Spouse B a higher total return, assuming an average annual return of 5%.

  • Financial Independence: Choosing the lump sum also grants Spouse B immediate financial independence and flexibility, without relying on Spouse A’s future payments.
  • Risk Mitigation: It eliminates the risk associated with Spouse A’s ability to make future payments.
  • Inflation Protection: The investment can potentially outpace inflation, preserving or even increasing the purchasing power of the initial amount.

3. Avoid Financial Settlement Mistakes

There are many costly mistakes that can be avoided by working with a CDFA.

Example 1: Keeping the Marital Home

One of the most common financial mistakes that divorcing individuals make is keeping the marital home because of emotional attachment and/or desire to keep the children in the same neighborhood or school district. Keeping the house, though, can have serious financial consequences. Many do not anticipate the real cost of maintaining a house, e.g., unexpected repairs, taxes, or homeowners’ association assessments, the increased cost of a mortgage after refinancing, or they don’t fully appreciate the impact of foregoing the proceeds of the sale of the house.

  • Marital Home Value: $500,000
  • Remaining Mortgage: $300,000
  • Other Assets: $200,000 in savings, $300,000 in a retirement account

Spouse A decides to keep the marital home, while Spouse B takes the retirement account and half of the savings ($100,000).

Spouse A assumes the mortgage, taking full responsibility for the remaining $300,000 debt.

Financial Implications for Spouse A

  • Equity in Home: $200,000 (the home value of $500,000 minus the mortgage of $300,000).
  • Cash Assets: $100,000 (half of the savings).
  • Debt: Assumes the full mortgage of $300,000.
  • Liquidity: Low, as most of Spouse A’s assets are tied up in the home.
  • Maintenance and Upkeep Costs: Ongoing expenses for maintaining the home, can be substantial and often underestimated.
  • Property Taxes and Insurance: Continuing obligations that can be a significant annual financial burden

Challenges for Spouse A

  • Affordability: If Spouse A’s income is not sufficient to cover the mortgage payments, property taxes, maintenance, and other living expenses, they might face financial strain
  • Refinancing the Mortgage: Spouse A may need to refinance the mortgage to assume it solely, which could come with a higher interest rate or unfavorable terms
  • Lack of Diversification: Spouse A’s financial situation is heavily invested in a single asset (the home), which can be risky, especially if the real estate market fluctuates
  • Selling the Home in the Future: If Spouse A needs to sell the home, they might incur real estate fees, and if the market is down, they could sell at a loss. Also, the home’s equity might not have increased as expected

Financial Implications for Spouse B

  • Spouse B walks away with liquid assets ($100,000 in savings) and a retirement account worth $300,000, which likely will grow over time and is diversified
  • Spouse B has more financial flexibility and potentially less financial stress

With a CDFA ‘s guidance, individuals will be guided to accurately estimate future expenses and assess the impact on longer-term financial health.

Example 2: Treating All Marital Assets Equally

Another example of a mistake that can be avoided is treating all assets as essentially the same. Many couples strive for a 50/50 division of their assets but are they really dividing things equally? Not all assets (and debts) are created equally. Assets are taxed differently, have varying growth returns, and impact on liquidity. Consider this situation where the property division doesn’t consider taxes:

Total Assets: Let’s assume the couple has a total asset pool of $1 million, which includes a house valued at $500,000, a stock portfolio worth $300,000, and savings of $200,000.

  • House: Spouse A keeps the house (valued at $500,000). Usually, there might be capital gains tax considerations if the house is sold, but in this scenario, we’re not accounting for that.
  • Stock Portfolio: Spouse B receives the stock portfolio ($300,000). Normally, selling stocks might incur capital gains tax, but it’s not considered here.
  • Savings: The savings ($200,000) are split equally, giving each spouse $100,000.


  • Spouse with House: Spouse A has an asset worth $500,000, but if they decide to sell the house later, they might face a substantial tax bill, which hasn’t been accounted for in this division
  • Spouse with Stocks: Similarly, Spouse B has stocks worth $300,000. If they sell these stocks, they might incur capital gains tax, which can significantly reduce the actual value they receive from this asset
  • Savings: Both have liquid assets of $100,000 each, which are not typically subject to immediate taxes
  • Liquidity: Spouse A who kept the house and stocks might face liquidity issues as their assets are not readily convertible to cash without potential tax implications

Fairness: The division might seem equal in terms of gross value, but after considering taxes on the sale of assets, one of these spouses will likely end up with significantly less net value

Take Control of Your Future

When you consider divorce, or if you know someone who is contemplating divorce, one of the biggest realities for those in the divorce process is the financial settlement and financial analysis post-divorce. Get the assistance of Berni Stevens, a Mediator, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA®), and divorce coach.

Berni provides step-by-step guidance on matters related to divorce. With a wide range of experience and expertise related to divorce issues, Berni will simplify the process and provide much-needed clarity in areas such as long-term tax consequences, asset, and debt analysis, dividing pension plans, continued health care coverage, stock option elections, protecting support with life insurance, and much more. She can also guide you through building an effective parenting plan, and getting your divorce processed through the court.

Schedule Your Complimentary Divorce Strategy Session Today!

11 Costly Financial Mistakes in Divorce Settlements


11 Costly Financial Mistakes in Divorce Settlements

Divorce is expensive even without mistakes and getting comprehensive guidance on divorce financial planning is critical. Read on to learn of the top eleven most common financial mistakes made in divorce.

1. Mis-Specifying Marital vs. Separate Assets

What’s considered marital property and subject to division? Most will say that any comingling of assets (e.g., depositing the funds in a joint account or using marital funds to pay the mortgage) constitutes an asset as marital. And in some states and counties, even if a portion of an asset that was separate on the date of marriage will, over the years, transition to marital. This can impact considerations of real estate, retirement, inheritances, and more.

2. Dividing Each Asset 50/50

Too often, lawyers, hearing officers, and judges take the easy way out by forcing division of each asset equally. Why? It’s easy and not easily challenged. This approach, though, fails to consider the needs and wants of each spouse, as well as the tax consequences of and administrative effort in dividing each asset.

3. Not Considering an Alimony Buyout

No one likes alimony. Payors hate writing the check and the recipient hates depending on it. Plus, if the payor dies or is disabled, the payments stop (an example of why insurance is important post-divorce). Instead, if there are sufficient assets to cover it, calculate the present value of the stream of anticipated payments at an appropriate discount rate and build it into the division of assets.

4. Errors in Valuing Executive Compensation

If there’s one financial topic that befuddles many, it’s how to treat deferred compensation, including stock options, both qualified and not qualified, as well as restricted stock and restricted stock units. Are they marital or separate? Are they based on past or future performance? Can they be transferred to a spouse/former spouse? What is the correct valuation method: intrinsic value, Black-Scholes, or the binomial method? How are taxes accounted for?

5. Not Considering the Possibility of Hidden Assets

Given the opportunity and motive, many a spouse will start stashing away funds in anticipation of a divorce, whether for financial security, sense of ownership, or vindication. Tax returns, W-2’s, credit card statements, and bank account statements are all sources to identify diverted funds. Even when not suspected by a client spouse, a quick review of these documents may reveal otherwise unidentified assets.

6. Not Looking at Creative Settlement Options to Meet Each Spouse’s Unique Needs

What if a spouse wants to keep the house for and can’t get approval for a mortgage buyout? It’s easy to just say “sell” and move on, but there are ways to facilitate the desire of a spouse who wants to remain in the home for a period without undue legal or financial burden to the co-owner spouse. As another example, maybe retirement funds are of utmost concern and alimony/cash flow not so much? A skilled divorce financial expert will come up with alternative settlement options to address the unique needs of each spouse.

7. Mistakes in Retirement/Pension Valuation and Division Orders

Retirement plans, and especially pensions, are widely misunderstood in divorce. The one who’s name is on the retirement plan thinks they are the rightful owners. Some incorrectly think the “current value” on a pension statement is the value of the pension. Pensions of all kinds, and especially military and federal pensions, require an expert for valuation and drafting of appropriate orders for submission to the custodian.

8. Failing to Consider Tax Consequences

All assets are not alike when it comes to splitting them in divorce. $250,000 in a 401k is not the same as $250,000 of equity in a house. The former is taxed at an ordinary income tax rate upon withdrawal while the latter may be largely excluded from any taxation and otherwise taxed at the capital gains rate.

9. Allowing One Spouse to Keep the House When it’s Not Financially Feasible or Beneficial

The marital home is an asset laden with emotion and sentimentality. It’s common to want to keep the house for emotional stability without consideration of the impact on future financial health. Houses don’t necessarily appreciate significantly over time, maintenance expenses are often overlooked or discounted, and a house is not a liquid asset. An objective evaluation is critical before deciding to keep or sell the marital home.

10. Not Properly Accounting for a Closely Held Business

If a spouse owns a business, is it a source of income, an asset to be valued and divided, or both? If a source of income, do we just look at the tax returns for the business? If to be valued, do you pay a business valuation expert thousands of dollars to get an accurate figure? Get the advice of a divorce financial expert is necessary if one of the spouses owns a business.

11. Not Accurately Budgeting for Your Post-Divorce Life

Do you have a good hold on where your money goes? Have you really assessed how much you will need post-divorce? Your choice in divorce settlement options needs to be balanced between short-term cash flow needs and long-term net worth.

Work with a qualified divorce financial professional, i.e., a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA®) to help you avoid costly mistakes in divorce. You only get one chance to get it right.

Take Control of Your Future


When you consider divorce, or if you know someone who is contemplating divorce, one of the biggest realities for those in the divorce process is the financial settlement and financial analysis post-divorce. Get the assistance of Berni Stevens, a Mediator and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA®.)

Berni provides step-by-step guidance on matters related to divorce. With a wide range of experience and expertise related to divorce issues, Berni will simplify the process and provide much-needed clarity in areas such as long-term tax consequences, asset, and debt analysis, dividing pension plans, continued health care coverage, stock option elections, protecting support with life insurance, and much more.

Schedule Your Complimentary Divorce Strategy Session Today!

How to Win in Divorce

In a recent post, I addressed the notion of “winning” at divorce. There are many lawyers who claim they can do just that, and they will be happy to take your hard-earned money while they fight your war for you. The reality is, in the vast majority of cases, you’ll wind up no better off than if you’d negotiated to begin with, and all the while you’re funding your lawyer’s kids’ college education instead of your own. 

Winning might instead be viewed as getting through this divorce transition with integrity, keeping more of your own money, and maintaining your and your children’s emotional health throughout. Ideally, you’ll do this without ever stepping foot into a courthouse or even speaking to an attorney. 

So, how do you get better outcomes, at a lower cost and without judges, courts, or even lawyers? If you have minor children and marital assets, don’t attempt a do-it-yourself divorce unless you want to risk costly mistakes that cannot later be reversed. If you want an easy, affordable, and legal solution, seek a qualified divorce mediator. 

You will want to find a mediator who has the knowledge, skills, and experience to guide you and your spouse to a financially optimized settlement agreement and, if applicable, with a parenting plan that preserves the integrity of your family. A mediator with the divorce financial expertise of a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA®) is ideal. 

How, though, to address the legal piece of your divorce? You will find that legal agreements and divorce papers are straightforward in a mediated case. These can be easily facilitated by your mediator so that you never even have to work directly with an attorney to process your divorce. (It’s never a bad idea, though, to have an attorney review your agreements before they are finalized, and this can be done at a minimal cost.)

Rationally approaching your divorce, along with a dose of grace, can result in a lower-cost and faster process while addressing your financial needs and preserving your family’s emotional well-being. Now, wouldn’t you agree this would be a “win” at divorce?

What it Means to “Win” at Divorce

Are you thinking about a divorce and wondering how you can achieve a lopsided division of assets and alimony, so you don’t have to work? And maybe sole custody of the children, too? If so, you wouldn’t be alone.

You’ll easily find a divorce attorney who will fight your war with you for years. And you’ll only end up where you would have if you’d negotiated to begin with. And guess what—you’ve funded your lawyer’s kids’ college accounts rather than your own. Is this a “win” at divorce?

Perhaps you should instead consider getting through this overwhelmingly difficult transition with dignity while keeping a lot more of your own money and maintaining your and your children’s emotional health throughout. In most instances, you can do that without ever stepping foot into a courthouse or even speaking to an attorney. 

The fact is that ninety percent of divorces don’t belong in the court system. When you involve the court, you give up total control around life-altering decisions regarding your assets, your income, and the custody of your children. Whether within or outside of court, if you involve an attorney for both you and your spouse—the traditional model—it will result in legal expenses that you can’t possibly fathom when you’re 1) just getting started and 2) convinced the “system” will see your side of what’s just. Attorney-driven divorce processes will not provide you with practical guidance and needed emotional support nor correctly value all your assets and considers both the short and long-term impact on each spouse’s financial health.

I set out years ago to find a better way to divorce, creating and refining a process to deliver just that. At TruNorth Divorce, we provide a legally-sound, one-stop solution for divorcing couples who want a financially optimized settlement that helps both spouses achieve their long-term goals. When children are involved, we also provide effective and durable parenting plans. Yes, there is indeed a better way that will be less expensive, faster, less stressful, minimize the negative impact on your children, and launch you towards a new and promising future.

Want to know more? Read How to Win in Divorce.