For people going through separation and divorce, one of the scariest things can be wondering how the divorce is going to affect their financial well-being. Will I have enough money each month to pay the rent or mortgage? Will I be able to keep my gym membership and other things important to me? What will happen to my retirement savings, and will it be enough when I retire? What kind of tax consequences of divorce am I not thinking about?

After years of working in the family courts, I realized that giving legal answers to these financial questions often didn’t help alleviate the fear. Legal answers help people know their rights, entitlements and obligations under the law, but they don’t answer basic financial planning questions like whether cash flow will be sufficient to meet expenses. The legal answers are important, but they’re not enough.

So I decided that, in addition to my legal training—I graduated with high honors from the University of North Carolina School of Law—I wanted financial planning training so I could be more helpful to my clients and better alleviate their fears when it comes to finances. To that end, after I completed an extensive four-module course and eight hours of exams, the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts (IDFA) designated me as a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA). I am now one of approximately 5,000 professionals in the U.S. and Canada to hold the CDFA distinction. I will be taking on-going continuing education to maintain the certification.

For clients, this means I’m able to analyze and provide a clearer understanding of the financial ramifications of various legal options. With feasible financial plan we create together, I help clients make educated and better informed decisions as we evaluate various settlement options. This helps reduce client apprehension and saves clients money about whether or not involving a CPA or an independent financial advisor is necessary.

As it turns out, collaborative law proceedings—the type of law I most often practice and am most passionate about—provide the perfect process for incorporating the use of financial planning in divorce negotiations. If you or someone you know is facing divorce, please have them give serious consideration to collaborative divorce. It is a much healthier and more dignified option. See the Divorce Without Drama video series for more information.

—Kerry Burleigh