Ivy Menchel, CFP®, CDFA™ helps women and men deal with one of the most contentious issues of divorce – money and assets.
Ivy is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst™ (CDFA). If you weren’t aware of this specialized field of financial planning, you’re not alone. A CDFA works with divorcing clients, attorneys, mediators and divorce coaches to help address the financial issues as you transition through this difficult time.
Ivy’s practice, Family Wealth Planning Partners represents one spouse or works as a financial neutral to help both parties come to an agreement.
The New York CDFA earned her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology at Stony Brook University. Ivy has mediation training and although she doesn’t act as a mediator, her skills help couples resolve their issues and move on to new and hopefully fulfilling and prosperous lives.
Ivy understands the challenges of going forth with a reduced income, meeting obligations such as support and the trauma of losing a cherished family home. She empowers her clients with the knowledge to handle their financial situation and she helps to create a more harmonious experience for those headed down the often treacherous road to divorce.
Ivy has a wealth of experience as a financial advisor. She began her career as a financial professional in 1993. In addition to her divorce financial analysis practice, Ivy has a separate comprehensive financial planning practice.
It's not surprising that clients feel comfortable with Ivy when it comes to their personal and financial matters. She is a straight talker, but she has a great sense of humor and a warm manner that would make anyone feel comfortable.
First Wives World had the pleasure of speaking with Ivy about the benefits of hiring a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst™. Ivy is also a contributor to First Wives World, and you can read her articles here.
To be honest, I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst®.
Ivy: You’re probably not alone in that. The profession has been around for a while. Maybe I’m a little biased, but I think everyone should have a financial professional specifically trained in the financial nuances of divorce on their divorce team because marriage is about love, but divorce is about money and assets.
You are really making some of the most important financial decisions of your life. People depend on their attorney or their mediator, or maybe they have an investment advisor in their world, but it’s a little different. I can tell you that most attorneys and most mediators aren’t necessarily financially savvy. Their area of expertise is the law.
That makes perfect sense. Everybody should have a financial advisor anyway, and especially going through divorce.
Ivy: I definitely agree with you! Even for the attorneys that are a little bit more financially savvy, they don’t do it every day. Most people think it’s just about the numbers, but it’s also about what the family values are, and what their goals are. We deal with that day in and day out. In addition to being a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst®, I’m also a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional, so I have a good idea about the importance of understanding a client’s complete financial picture.
Do people still get spousal support or alimony?
Ivy: Yes, they do. The lesser earning spouse could get alimony, maintenance or spousal support or whatever you want to call it. Terminology varies among different regions. It is available if divorce causes unfair economic consequences for one of the spouses. Believe it or not, in this day and age there are men that get support too because there are families where the wife is the breadwinner.
I can relate to that.
Ivy: What’s interesting, even in the families where the wife is the breadwinner, at times you wouldn’t even know. It’s not necessarily publicized. If you socialize with this couple, you may not realize that the wife is the breadwinner.
I know, some men still have that feeling, it’s a sexist thing, but some men can be embarrassed and don’t want anyone to know that their spouse is the sole earner or makes more money.
Ivy: Many couples are certainly fine with it. I work with several families where the father is the stay-at-home parent and the mother is the go out and get’em parent.
There is still support for the lower wage earner, but the days of lifetime alimony are not as common.
Support could be for a certain period of time, and different states have different regulations. There are various types of maintenance – temporary, permanent, rehabilitative, reimbursement and lump sum. It all depends on the circumstances.
By the way, each divorce is state specific, so I am most familiar with New York. I have had cases in other states, but most of my answers refer to New York State. Even within the state, the New York City laws for example are a bit different that Westchester county.
How do you deal with the arguing over money?
Ivy: I don’t necessarily see the fighting. I can see the tension, but for some reason, parties act out less with me, and I don’t know why that is. I actually have a case now that is pretty contentious, though they are trying to mediate. I think that we will get to the finish line with them, but I think that the tension comes from the fear. The fear of “am I going to be ok” as is the case for many.
It’s interesting because there are three ways you can go through divorce. Actually, there are really four; one is do-it-yourself divorce, but I’m not a huge fan of that, unless you can absolutely agree on everything, your assets are minimal and you don’t have children.
I think that you should have the advice of a professional. There is the traditional litigation where both parties put on their boxing gloves, lace them up, and whoever is still standing at the end or bleeding less wins. Then there is the opposite side which is mediation. This is where you bring in a neutral third party who will help facilitate an agreement. Neither party has an advocate because the mediator acts as a neutral.
The third way is a newer method; collaborative divorce, where both parties hire an attorney to represent them, so they do have advocates. It is a more respectful, amicable process. Everybody agrees not to litigate and then depending on the circumstances of the case, they could bring in a child specialist, a mental health professional to do some coaching, which is different than therapy, and then a financial neutral. All of the professionals have had interdisciplinary training as well as mediation training.
If I’m a neutral and I’m representing both parties, I meet with the both of them. If it’s a traditional litigated type of case or a mediation, I could represent one spouse or I could represent the couple, so it depends on the circumstances.
The value that the financial professional who has been trained in the specific area of divorce brings to the table is what we can show both parties. We do so much in the case – it’s getting a handle on their lifestyle and what their lifestyle is or was, taking an inventory of all of their assets and their debts, what it could look like going forward. In other words a current situation review, as well as interim and long-term planning.
I think what is very important and helps with the fear, reducing the tension, is knowing that once we gather all of the information we come up with settlement options, I’ll run economic models to show them are they going to be okay or not okay and then discuss what adjustments, if any.
My undergraduate degree is in psychology and when people ask me how I work through the tension, I don’t know. I probably do something that has a specific name to it. What’s important is that it’s not just about the numbers. I think from where I sit, it’s important to really try and figure out what’s the underlying concern or issue and then figure out how to tackle it, how to address it and how to make sure that whoever my client is, that they are OK. The truth is that you really want to make sure that both parties are OK, because if one spouse isn’t, especially if there are children, that’s not good for either one.
You stay with mommy and you are in a ten room home and then you go to daddy and he’s in a studio apartment, or vice versa, mommy’s in a shack and daddy is in a luxurious mansion. It doesn’t work.
Again, it’s really trying to make it work for both parties. Sometimes one of the spouses needs some education so there could be what we call rehabilitative support while they are getting their education. The other spouse hopefully is supportive of that, both emotionally and financially because it’s really in both party’s best interest.
So after the divorce, do you do follow up, for instance if one is supposed to pay child support or they can’t manage the reduced budget?
Ivy: If one of the spouses is not paying child support, that is really more of a legal matter. They should certainly go to an attorney. If it’s a collaborative case and I have played a financial neutral, I’m not allowed to work with either one of the parties afterword because in the collaborate process we need to make sure that there are no conflicts of interest. If I’m not hired as a financial neutral, very often I am working with the clients afterward. As part of the process, they’ll often have to retitle assets, open up new accounts and transfer the assets, so I will help them with that. If they need help going forward, I can switch hats as a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional, making sure they are sticking with their budget, especially if it is a tight budget, I can help them with that.
Sometimes the agreement requires some type of insurance; life insurance, disability insurance, long term care insurance. I or another financial planner can help them with that. I can also help them with their investments and stick to their retirement plan, and regularly monitor and update their financial plan.
If a woman is going through a divorce and has never worked with a financial planner, what is the process?
Ivy: Finances are so emotional and so personal. . It’s very important that people work with an advisor that they feel truly comfortable with and who truly knows and understands them. Everybody’s circumstances are so different.
I’m going to separate the genders right now. Many women are fearful of finances and we think we don’t understand it, or some think it’s so over their head.
We weren’t brought up per se to think about it, or at least the older generation wasn’t, I’m not sure about the younger generation. Work with somebody who is going to educate you, because the education is so important. For years, we (women) have been handling financial matters. You pay your bills – that’s a financial transaction, you shop, you do all these things, but yet we still question our capabilities, so I think it is very important to get the education and not be fearful.
The true issue in financial services is that there is a lot of jargon and fancy words. If you can, find somebody you can work with who can break it down for you and make it more understandable. A lot of those words are used to make us financial professionals look brilliant.
For me, it would be totally unacceptable to work with somebody who didn’t understand something. Maybe I give too much information, but I’d rather give too much information than not enough. I think it is very important to get educated and start with baby steps. Maybe read a book on finances, there are a lot of good books out there to read, maybe taking a course or something like that. Small steps, so that you feel empowered because information and knowledge are power.
That’s so true. I’m one of those people who don’t understand finances. No one ever explained things to me, although I was a single mother for many years.
Ivy: What scared you the most?
I had no idea how to manage money. My bank manager would give me advice, but I really didn’t follow what she was saying most of the time. I never invested and I have no retirement plan or savings and I am 60 years old now. A lot of women are in the same boat.
Ivy: Oh that’s a shame. It’s so important to work with a financial professional you feel comfortable with who makes it easy for you to ask questions, and you feel confident and comfortable that they are going to give you the right answer and not stop until you understand. Unfortunately people don’t feel comfortable sometimes asking questions because they think it is a stupid question.
We’ve probably heard it before. You wouldn’t be the first person who didn’t understand something. You want to work with somebody who understands your financial picture.
We would all like to work with someone who is interested in our financial well-being and not just in selling a product.
Ivy: Absolutely – you deserve that. The role the planner should play is helping the client work through all the financial issues surrounding their divorce and it has nothing to do with specific financial products or services. It’s an advisory kind of role.
So many people need that and don’t realize that service is available.
Ivy: I’d like to believe that as time goes by, more and more people will know about divorce financial analysts and demand that they are part of the divorce team. Sometimes people will say, oh now that’s another advisor and it’s going to cost me so much more. Well, the reality is that most likely your attorney or mediator fees are higher than a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst’s fees and it will probably take them longer to sort through the financial data than it would a financial professional because we do this all the time. We can probably help streamline the financial process in the divorce.
That makes perfect sense. You should use people who are experts in their field when you need them. It’s like a do-it -yourself divorce.
Ivy: Penny wise and pound foolish. I’m a very big believer in bringing in the right professionals because in the long run it really does help you come to a better settlement without it costing you more per se. It may cost you a little bit more, but it’s well worth it. It depends on the circumstances of the case.
The divorce process is changing. It’s becoming less adversarial and more collaborative, which is a great thing, but there is always going to be bitterness. Still, it’s nice to see more people are trying to do it the right way.
Ivy: It’s interesting that you say that because people laugh when I say this, but not all cases and situations are contentious. I just finished working with a couple that were so pleasant to each other through the process that I couldn’t understand why they were getting divorced.
You don’t want to bring in a professional who is going to add to the tension and create more tension. You want to bring in professionals that can help diffuse the tension, if possible. I know sometimes people just want to go out there and hire a barracuda, but I’m not always sure that’s the best thing to do. I always say that people need to go into the divorce with an open mind, but you can’t go in saying this is what I want and that’s it. There are negotiations in divorce as in any business contract or agreement and having that winner take all attitude can really be detrimental to the negotiations and the outcome. You have to try and diffuse the tension if you can.
Be respectful. That’s a big thing in the collaborative divorce and should be in the other methods of divorce. At every meeting, we need to sit there and be respectful to one another because if one person attacks the other one, both people are on guard and their defences are up, the armor goes up and then it takes that much longer to break down that armor.
And I guess they aren’t thinking that the more you fight the longer it’s going to drag on and the more it’s going to cost in attorney fees, but it’s such an emotional time.
Ivy: Good point. I’m a big believer in bringing in a divorce coach to the process too. It’s different than therapy; it’s not where you’re going to go in, sit on a couch and figure out how your mother or father messed you up when you were two years old. It’s really dealing with the emotions of the divorce and how to get through the process.
Do you have certain professionals you work with on a regular basis?
Ivy: I have some attorneys, some mediators, some divorce coaches that I work with. Sometimes in the process, people come to me first because they want to know what it is going to look like financially. Sometimes, they will go to the attorney or mediator first and sometimes they will go to the coach first. We have a nice community, and depending on the personalities and the circumstances of the case, that would determine who we bring in. There isn’t a one size fits all.
Is there anything else you want people to know about what you do?
Ivy: I think it is very important to have a good handle on your financial circumstances. It’s important to not go it alone. Inevitably, it’s more expensive to maintain two households on what used to maintain one household, so I think it is very important to have a good handle on these things post divorce. It’s very important to work on your financial plan and regularly update it because things will change. You want to make sure that you are financially secure and financially able and empowered. The empowerment comes from getting educated and working with somebody that you feel comfortable with.
For sure, especially when you are feeling a little fragile and your trust has been blown, it’s important to connect and know people have your best interest at heart.
Ivy: I do say interview two or three professionals so you can feel comfortable when you are making your decision about who to work with. Make sure that they are knowledgeable, make sure that they have experience and try to see if you get a feeling that they care about you and have a good understanding of your circumstances and what your needs are.
I can imagine your clients feel very comfortable working with you, because it has been such a pleasure talking to you, Ivy.
Ivy: Well thank you, I’d like to believe that they do.
Thank you, Ivy, for sharing your insight and knowledge. It has been a pleasure!
Are you worried about managing your finances after a divorce? Share your concerns and let us know how you dealt with this dilemma during your divorce in the comment box below.