A recent survey reveals what women look for when choosing a divorce lawyer, and how professionals can better support and serve their female clients.
By Stacy Francis, Financial Planner
Women currently control 51%, or $14 trillion, of personal wealth in the U.S. and, according to the BMO Wealth Institute, are expected to control $22 trillion by 2020. Despite increases in wealth for women, the path to financial security for divorced women has many obstacles. The poverty rate of separated wives is 27% – nearly three times higher than the number of separated husbands living in poverty.
These figures are made worse because a woman’s retirement lasts longer and costs more than a man’s. None of your clients is planning to live out her golden years in severe financial difficulty caused by her divorce; as family law professionals, we have a responsibility to understand the source of this financial gap and have support and solutions prepared to fill that gap.
Determined to reverse these sobering statistics, Francis Financial, Inc. conducted a study surveying over 150 women who were going through or had gone through a divorce. The results shed light on the emotional, legal, and financial difficulties that women face during this major life event. The white paper, “Unveiling the Unspoken Truth: The Financial Challenges Women Face During and After Divorce,” reveals what women look for when choosing their lawyer, how professionals can better support and serve clients, and the importance of building a community to uplift women through the divorce process.
What Women Want from a Divorce Lawyer
When initiating a divorce, most women’s immediate concern is about hiring the right legal team to help protect herself and her family. What do women say matrimonial attorneys are doing right and what are they doing wrong? What do women want from a divorce lawyer?
Nearly half (49%) of the women surveyed said they would recommend their divorce lawyer. Another quarter (27%) were not sure they would recommend, and the remainder (24%) of the respondents answered that they would not give the name of their lawyer to a friend.
When lawyers miss out on referral opportunities, it could be because they do not have a strong relationship with their clients. A significant number of respondents (40%) shared that their divorce lawyer did not know them well enough to do a good job representing them. The remainder, however, gave good reviews, with nearly a quarter (23%) feeling that their lawyer knew them very well and 37% knowing them well enough to represent them effectively.
The survey participants considered several key areas when determining which lawyer to hire for their divorce, and of all the factors considered, experience was the most important (39% of the respondents. The women shared that any matrimonial attorney considered should have substantial experience in handling divorce cases with situations similar to their own. The top priority for nearly a quarter (23%) of survey respondents was expert negotiating ability to help resolve the divorce quickly with as little collateral damage as possible.
Listening skills were important to 20% of respondents. These participants insisted that the divorce attorney also be accessible and prompt in answering phone calls, emails, and requests for meetings. Listening to your clients is essential to creating a comfortable environment, mastering trust, and inspiring confidence, dependability and understanding.
Rounding out the bottom of the list, 18% of women hired an attorney based on the strength of their relationship with judges in the jurisdiction.
A System to Show Experience, Expertise, and Empathy
At Francis Financial, we have developed a three-part process to build trust with our potential client, and show that we are listening to and care about her.
- Discovery: Learn – Listen – Research
We have a list of important questions we ask any divorcing women. We are able to ask 50 questions in a 90-minute relationship-building meeting because we listen more than we speak.
- Strategic Plan: Strategize – Recommend – Communicate
We show her we were listening – and understanding – her situation, with a detailed map and strategy outlining her values, goals, interests, important relationships, list of advisors and financial assets and liabilities. She communicated all of this important information in the Discovery meeting.
- Mutual Commitment: Present – Discuss – Confirm
We start drafting the financial strategy for the divorce, and solicit feedback from her. If a client has already hired an attorney, this blueprint will be in conjunction with the lawyer’s feedback. However, more than 30% of our clients are women who have yet to hire an attorney and are looking for us to help build their team.
We focus on making it clear that we have one goal: her financial success. This is a process that you can modify to apply to your own family law practice. Both senior staff and junior staff should understand how to conduct these meetings, making this system less time intensive for you while planting the seeds of trust and confidence with the women who walk into your office.
What Women Want from a Divorce Lawyer: More Support During and After Divorce
Getting support during and after the divorce process is imperative. However, we found that a large number of respondents (38%) did not feel they had enough support. Some (11%) felt that they did not have any type of support, at all.
Any flight attendant will tell you that in the event of an emergency, you must place the air mask on yourself before you put it on your child. However, few women heed this advice – to take care of themselves first – when it comes to their divorce or separation. During the divorce process, women tend to focus more on taking care of the people that they love, and less on taking care of themselves. This may include children, parents, and even friends who have difficulty coming to terms with the couple’s decision to divorce.
It is very clear that the women surveyed needed more support from the professionals in their lives – as well as from their friends and family – before, during, and after their divorce.
When faced with a stressful situation, women tend to seek the help of others, but too often they do not know where to turn to find these individuals. Participants repeatedly said that aside from the support of their family and friends, they wanted to work with a team of skilled divorce professionals including a divorce lawyer, a financial divorce expert, and a mental-health specialist to help them manage the changes and stress brought on by divorce.
When asked what additional support they desired, respondents ranked the services of a divorce financial expert highest (28%) followed by a divorce support group (21%) and divorce coach (16%). If you provide introductions to these colleagues and help your client build her “divorce team” to support her in all areas, her satisfaction with you will increase greatly. Offering more than one name is also ideal as women appreciate choices, and this also shows that you have enough experience in this field to know the best collaborators.
The survey participants revealed that it’s not only about money, or the children, or the house, or the furniture; it’s about how everything comes together in a larger picture. Divorcing women want to understand how the different aspects of their lives will be impacted so that they can continue to move toward the goals they have for themselves and their loved ones. The responses show that focusing on child support, maintenance, and equitable distribution in a piecemeal fashion is not preferred by most women. Women also find comfort in having the settlement agreement modeled out to better understand what the implications of settlement A are versus those of settlement B. They appreciate a clear roadmap detailing what they can expect their new lifestyle to cost, and helping to answer big questions about going back to work, selling the primary home or moving to a lower cost location. Deborah R. married for 35 years shared, “I wish I had someone who would have helped me look at the entire financial picture.”
Building Support for Divorcing Women
The survey participants shared that they wanted to meet other divorced women to be able to share their experiences and learn from each other. Facilitating these kinds of group events is a fantastic way to build the type of rapport necessary to add female clients to your practice. These high-impact events can be purely social opportunities, like a wine-tasting, or intimate events of your own creation.
A specific example of a very powerful event is a circle gathering. As a financial firm, we host money-conversation circles for divorced women. We transform our conference room into an intimate space with a wine bar, dim lights, burning candles and a circle of chairs. We gather a group of no more than 15 divorced women to share this experience, which many find to be profound and life-changing.
The evening offers a safe space to talk about money and reflect upon our relationship with money. We ask thought-provoking questions, such as, “What was your first memory of money?”, “What are some of the beliefs you carry about money?”, “How do you feel about spending and saving money?”, “What events or situations reinforced your beliefs/story or caused it to evolve?”, “How does your story reflect who you are today?”, “What would you like to change about your money story?” “What seed has been planted today for you in our conversation?”
We give women time to reflect, journal and share. For many women, this is the first time that they have shared their fears, failures, hopes, and dreams about money. Women want to be heard, and circles, as well as the above-mentioned strategies, are some ways to allow that to happen.
Stacy Francis, CFP® CDFA® is a nationally-recognized financial expert and the CEO of Francis Financial, a boutique firm that provides advice to women going through transitions such as divorce, widowhood, or sudden wealth. She is also the founder of Savvy Ladies™, a nonprofit that provides free personal finance resources to over 15,000 women. www.francisfinancial.com.
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