As a financial advisor and RIA owner with a practice focused on divorced and divorced women, The struggle for women’s rights is only part of a larger struggle for inclusivity that includes my approach to financial literacy, impact investing, and advocacy for children and adults with special needs.
For me, the biggest barrier to working with women going through divorce is financial illiteracy – or rather the fear of being perceived as financially illiterate.
Financial literacy is not something we take in with the air we breathe. It takes time, effort, and training – something that even seasoned, practical entrepreneurs will be happy to admit is the number one reason to hire a financial advisor in the first place. You may know a stock in a bond and know about trusts and family governance, but want help finding personalized financial plans and solid investment programs that suit your lifestyle and old goals.
People in the midst of a marital breakdown feel overwhelmed and vulnerable – especially if their role in the marriage was primarily a “housewife” rather than a “breadwinner”. Some women in this position, often not the partner pushing for divorce, feel anxious, angry, sad, confused, and too disturbed to focus on things like money. To the extent that finances come into play, it is typical to conjure up the specter of being financially disadvantaged after the official breakup.
It’s a matter of trust
I am working on replacing those negative emotions now and over time with a more realistic understanding of their finances. I’m working on educating them, starting with the premise that there is no such thing as a stupid question. I see their confidence return as they learn that the parts they need are there and just need to be rearranged. I also help by understanding the pros and cons of corporate compensation so that I can provide insight into fair settlements.
It is incredibly gratifying to see her confidence blossom.
Nevertheless, I can definitely empathize with gaps in trust. My son is approaching adulthood as a person with special needs. He has Down syndrome. When I reply to friends who ask how Dylan influenced my life, I often say, “How has not he changed it? “It’s like entering a new realm of being or, like Dorothy, suddenly inhabiting a country that I had never visited or even thought of before. I started in utter panic, haunted by discomfort and fear, and literally had to drain my courage My patience, maybe never a strong suit, became a noticeable trait.
Dylan made me a better person, but more importantly, he gave me a sense of mission that took shape in different ways. When my son was young, his father and I divorced, and I set out to start my own independent wealth management practice for women who had been divorced.
I raised a child with special needs, saw the fall of my marriage, and started a business at the same time. But as I tried, I found that I was working to create a level playing field that absolutely needed to be leveled. Just as clients came to me to help me ensure a fair allocation of the assets built up in their married life, my son needed support, education, and attention to pave the way for him.
Milestones and Withdrawals
Within a year of starting my independent practice, I co-founded the IDEAL School of Manhattan. The school offers K-12 classes with small classes. a high teacher to student ratio; and a commitment to academic success, social justice and diversity.
Last year I had the pleasure of watching my son at a graduation ceremony and receiving his graduation certificate from IDEAL School. I cannot express my pride in him.
I also cannot express how important it is for all of us to recover from everyday stress and special circumstances.
Personally, I try to find the balance between support and professionalism on the one hand and feeling like my lifeline on the other. The lines are always blurry and sometimes they are crossed, and when I’m “on” I just give it my all. But I’ve also learned to leave everything in the office when I’m at home. Unless it is an emergency, I am essentially disconnected from the power grid.
It’s not just feeling overwhelmed that hoists flags. Those of us who are getting divorced are prone to “compassionate fatigue” and become numb to cases that are not particularly extreme by comparison. When that makes itself felt in my life, I know it’s time to take a healthy step back and spend a few days recharging – for me, my clients, and my family.
Michelle Smith is a divorce finance specialist and the founder and CEO of Source Financial Advisors and Wife2CFO based in New York.