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Questions to Ask about Divorce and Separation Financial Topics at your First Meeting

Starting the separation process can be a daunting task.  The emotional turmoil of the separation combined with the unknown factors that will impact you create huge challenges.  I have prepared this list of topics to guide you in your first meeting(s).   There is so much you do not know, and so many important decisions, combined with so many emotions.  You may not even know what questions to ask.  To help you, I set out below the agenda outline I use as a Financial Divorce Specialist and Chartered Professional Accountant when meeting someone for the first time.

If you will be working with a trained financial divorce professional, such as a Chartered Financial Divorce Specialist or a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, I suggest meeting them early to understand the finances.  If you will be working without such a financial specialist, then use this agenda for your mediator or lawyer.  Many accountants do some work in this area, but are not trained in how all of the financial aspects of separation and divorce work.  Be sure you have a full understanding of financial implications (immediate and long-term) before going down this very expensive path.  And, as they say, knowledge is power – knowing the rules can help you ensure you receive your proper entitlements.  Knowledge will also help you know that your legal advisors understand what they are doing and/or are not misleading you into thinking you can get more than is fair.

Your meeting agenda is up to you.  Unfortunately, it is a lot of information – perhaps too much for one meeting.  However, in order to keep your fees low (especially since you are likely paying by the hour), write down your questions before your meeting so that you and your advisor can focus on the answers.  I hope the following list helps you.

Topics to discuss, data to provide, and issues to understand:

  1. Review the financial professional’s training in separation and divorce, related experience and his or her approach to working with you
      • Confirmation of confidentiality
      • Hourly rates
      • Determination of whether you want a written summary of this meeting
  2. Set the agenda by identifying your specific questions
  3. Provide your status
      • Date of separation
      • Date of marriage (if applicable)
      • Date of cohabitation – if common-law, or if common-law prior to marriage
      • Children involved – current custody, ages, education, disabilities, other issues
      • Names of lawyers / mediator / family counsellors / other professionals with whom you are working
      • Determination of the legal process you are using, or if undetermined, a review of options (typical litigation process, mediation, collaborative practice, do-it-yourself)
      • Discussion about the importance of emotional stability to make good financial decisions
      • Overview of prior relationship breakdowns, and/or children of other relationships
  4. Discuss an overview of the financial issues (further legal advice will likely be required)
      • Equalization of assets
        • Valuation of current assets and liabilities
        • Valuation of assets and liabilities at date of marriage
        • Differences between marriage and common law rights
        • Exceptions
        • Tax issues – valuation and transfers; non-deductibility of periodic payments
        • Valuation issues (pension, real estate, business)
        • Financial settlement options/challenges (e.g. ability to make payments)
      • Child support
        • Sole, shared, split, joint custody definitions and differences
        • Determination of income for child support payments
        • Basic support and Special expenses
        • Eligible Dependant Credit and Canada Child Benefit, etc. based on custody, especially shared custody issues
      • Spousal support
        • Entitlement
        • Determination of income and support amounts, including a discussion of the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines
        • Taxation – periodic versus lump sum payments
        • Duration
      • Personal budgeting
        • Will you require a personal financial budget
          • for legal proceedings
          • for personal need and understanding that you will be okay financially
  5. Other topics to discuss
      • Marital Status Change – CRA form RC65 required 90 days after separation
      • CPP credit splitting (rules differ for unions ended between 1978 and 1986 versus later)
      • Life insurance requirements for children and for ongoing cash flow security
      • Group insurance coverage – maintaining existing coverage and assuring future access to coverage
      • Updating of Wills, Powers of Attorney, Health Care Directives, beneficiaries of life insurance, RRSP/RRIF/TFSA, and segregated mutual funds, joint ownership
      • Tax deductibility of professional fees (re: support)
      • Segregating bank accounts, credit cards, lines of credit and other steps to prepare for separation.  See my article on Preparing for Separation.
      • Payment of interim support and ongoing common expenses until separation details are finalized
        • Interim child support
        • Interim spousal support (equal periodic payments or other arrangements)
        • Maintenance of the family home, including occupational rent
      • Sale of property and related tax issues before the divorce is finalized (e.g. election to avoid attribution rules)
  6. Additional information resources
  7. Engagement letter documentation – is there a letter or contract to be signed?  How are fees to be billed?

Blair Corkum, CPA, CA, R.F.P., CFP, CFDS, CLU, CHS holds his Chartered Professional Accountant, Chartered Accountant, Registered Financial Planner, Chartered Financial Divorce Specialist as well as several other financial planning related designations. Blair offers hourly based fee-only personal financial planning, holds no investment or insurance licenses, and receives no commissions or referral fees. This publication should not be construed as legal or investment advice. It is neither a definitive analysis of the law nor a substitute for professional advice which you should obtain before acting on information in this article. Information may change as a result of legislation or regulations issued after this article was written.©Blair Corkum