Separation/Divorce Financial Advice

One of the first concerns that people have when they think about/ decide to separate is how to afford to live. How am I going to pay for everything that I need? Everything that our kids need? Meet the obligations that I have and do things that I want to do?


Often, people are working from a place where the finances when they were together aren’t clear. If finances weren’t clear, or were strained before separation, it seems impossible to have enough on your own.


Separation is a time when expenses are shifting, increasing, and there are real unknowns. These things make it feel impossible to make good decisions, or answer questions about how much you need. Even with a number of unknowns, it’s possible to work out what’s possible.


There are several ways to sort out your numbers so that you can answer questions during the separation process about how much you need and make decisions about your expenses in the future. The traditional idea of budgeting doesn’t work for most people, and it’s unlikely to be helpful for you at this time.


As a collaboratively trained Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, I can work with you alone, with both of you and with your lawyers. Depending on your situation, we will find the best solution to move towards financial resolution.


Contact me to review your situation and understand your financial options.

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A few thoughts on Fees

A few thoughts on Fees


This video covers my thoughts on fees, my opinions on monthly/ subscription fees for planning and why I invoice my clients the way I do.





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How to Work with a Fee-only Planner

How to Work with Me

If you're not sure how to work with a fee-only, or advice-only, planner, take a few minutes to listen to an explanation of how I work with clients and how a plan makes managing change or choosing change less stressful.





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Cross Border Tax Planning

Taxes, Borders and Planning


Nothing starts a Monday like talking about life insurance, U.S. non-resident tax payers, excise tax and estate planning. 


One of my families includes a retired executive of a U.S. based company, a Canadian physician and a U.S. entrepreneur.  Retired executive has 401(k) income and deferred stock options.  Prior to working with me, excess income was funding a Universal Life insurance policy owned by the executive & his wife.  Since working with me, policy has changed ownership, and beneficiaries, to keep the policy out of the way of U.S. taxes.  Then we spent a good amount of time on estate planning: one adult child is in Canada; one is in the U.S;  we had just changed a significant asset and they were still accumulating assets.  Tax planning changed the estate, now we needed to plan back to the more important goal of equal distribution of a cross-border estate.


Starting a plan, or a plan review, with who you are and what you want makes it easier to see potential problems and new opportunities.


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Real estate and Risk

Real Estate and Risk


Real estate can have a confusing place in our financial pictures: we live in it, we invest in it, we own it jointly with other people, sometimes for personal reasons, sometimes for business reasons. 


On one hand, real estate is an asset class like any other:  it has cycles that include ups and downs; it has costs associated with owning it; the Tax Act has rules on tax consequences when we sell it.


On the other hand, real estate is very different: we can live in it, we join finances with people through real estate when we wouldn’t share an investment portfolio with them, we borrow heavily to invest in it.


We increase our risk, financial and personal, for real estate in ways that we wouldn’t for another asset class.  Perhaps because of it’s physical presence, clients consistently under-estimate the tax, estate, relationship breakdown impacts on their finances and plans. 

Real estate now has it’s own place on my list of documents to collect to start your plan.


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Managing Change or Choosing Change in Relationships

Proper planning  makes managing change or choosing change easier.  Understanding where you are now, reflecting on where you want to be and what’s most important to you, and taking steps to your goals all increase the opportunities and decrease the stress associated with change.


How do you successfully manage or choose change in a relationship?  Couples that Work by Jennifer Petriglieri (published by Harvard Business Review Press) looks at the 3 transition phases of dual-career couples.  Her goal wasn’t just to look at the practicalities of having 2 careers in one relationship, it was also to look at the underlying causes of challenges and strategies that increased the odds of the relationship surviving and thriving.


Couples that Work doesn’t directly deal with finances in a relationship; the timing of the transition phases discussed in the book and when clients coming to me with questions, frustrations or adjustments to an existing plan is not a coincidence.


If you want your finances to support the decisions that you’re making in your career and relationships, you need a planner who lets you talk about how your career and relationships matter to you.

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Effective Financial Plan

I don’t want your plan to sit in a drawer.  Or on a shelf collecting dust.  When you take the time and effort to work with me, my goal is to develop a plan that effective and relevant to you.

How do I do that?  If I don’t know what I don’t know about your situation, and your situation is unique to you, how do I figure that out?  Simple- I ask the same question a number of times at a specific part of the meeting.  Then I stop talking to hear your answer.  That’s part of what I do as an advisor.

As a client, when you start a thought with “I don’t know if this matters…” the answer is yes.  Whatever follows that phrase always matters to your plan.  The end of that thought is usually what makes your plan effective and relevant.

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Objective Financial Planning

What Objective Financial Planning Looks Like


My personal goals and biases have no place in your plan or in the advice that I give.


My Wednesday phone-call client took a while to tell me what she really wanted to do over the next 18 months, and where she wanted to live. If we hadn't gotten there, her plan wouldn't be very useful to her.


My professional goal is helping you manage change or make change. I will tell you if your goals are likely to create financial instability or cause an outcome that you've told me you didn't want. I also give you options to consider to adjust to get as close as possible to your goals.


Practically speaking, I'm working until you have a plan that you understand, and can use to change your day-to-day life, That only happens when we talk about your stuff.


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Priorities and your financial plan

Many conversations last week had a common theme: priorities.  A short video on how your priorities should be reflected in your financial plan.


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Delay of Bill C-78

Oh Canada, this wasn’t the post I wanted to write.

I had planned to write to write a ‘Hooray Canada’ post for Bill C-78.  Bill C-78 deals with a number of areas of the Federal Divorce Act, Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act and Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act. Bill C-78 received Royal Assent in June 2019 and was to come into effect July 1, 2020.

It’s been delayed due to COVID-19.  Parts of it will come in to effect in March 2021.  Parts of it won’t come in to effect until 2-3 years from now.

I care about Bill C-78 because half of the planning work that I do is with families who are separating.  It’s a difficult, confusing, hurtful time, financially and emotionally.  There has been damage, and there will be damage as people work towards agreements.  When families don’t have supportive advice, or a system that protects, additional damage is done.  Damage that didn’t need to happen and shouldn’t have come from a system of professionals and governments.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) website states 4 key objectives for Bill C-78:

promote the best interests of the child
address family violence
help to reduce child poverty
make Canada’s family justice system more accessible and efficient

Canada is not a party to either the 1996 Hague Convention on the Protection of Children or the 2007 Hague Child Support Convention because of our existing Divorce Act and associated legislations.  Bill C-78 would have moved us closer; we still need at least one province or territory to change their laws to move us into a position of internationally acceptable protection.  Canada’s exclusion from the Conventions make it more difficult for parents to resolve some issues when one parent lives in another country.

Other countries coming out of lockdown have seen a spike in separation rates.  Increases in domestic violence.  We’ve already seen economic damage.  Some of that damage will continue to grow into economic devastation.  We have an increased need, and an out-dated, damaging system.

DOJ says we can’t move on the legislation in the midst of uncertainty.  What if we turned that around?  What if we said that the uncertainty makes Bill C-78 more important? 

What if we said we are grateful that we had 184 working days out of an expected 259 to plan for the changes and were committed to following through, even if circumstances are difficult? 

What if we said that we need to build trust in our systems? Systems that have done so much damage to so many people, and the way to do that was to follow through with the right decision? The family court system isn’t as good as it could be.  Canada’s inability to sign the Hague Conventions above told us that.  Bill C-78 was a start of turning towards protection and support.

What if we said that families are an important social unit and our systems need to provide protection and support while a family falls apart and re-forms into something new?  Any time there is rapid change there is also risk.  What if we said we don’t believe our systems should add risk, they should decrease risk and protect.

What if we said that violence within families hurts all of the members-  the target client, the aggressor and the child witnesses?  What if we said that our courts won’t ignore violence and the effects of violence when making decisions?

What if we believed that systems were a reflection of us?  That they aren’t separate, and we can’t abdicate responsibility for process or outcome.

Since you’ve read this far, could you do one more thing?

If you work anywhere in the family law system, could you advise and counsel based on the legislation that’s coming, not on precedent?
Could you contact your MP and MPP (we need at least one province to change legislation too) and tell them that Bill C-78 is going to help us move forward into a better country?
Could you remind your friends and family whose relationships may be falling apart that there are many ways to get out of a tough situation, and encourage them to use ways that reinforce their best traits, not their worst ones?


We’ve pushed off reforming Family Law in Canada for a long time.  We agreed to changes in June 2019. The need for change is now greater.  I’m not asking for large, radical change.  We could just do what was agreed on June 21, 2019.  Small change matters.


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Sara McCullough
September 28, 2020
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Fraser Lang
May 10, 2017
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