Broker Check

The 3 Essential Elements of Divorce

May 09, 2023

May 2023

Sarah C. Cuddy, CDFA®, CFP® & Brian T. Goonan, Ph.D.

Most of us think of divorce as a primarily legal process; and it is. But this is a very narrow view of divorce and leaves out key aspects that will have a massive influence on the outcome of any given case. If you want your case to resolve with minimal pain, cost, and time, it’s important to ensure you address each of these elements in turn.

#1 - Elements of Divorce

Every divorce has three key elements and an expert who can address it. Those elements are Emotional, Financial, and Legal.


Marrying your spouse likely a wasn’t business or legal decision – it was an emotional one. So why would the decision to dissolve the union not also be emotional? The end of anything can be emotionally charged. You’re facing a radical change, and that’s going to have you “feeling some kind of way,” as the kids say. And if there are children involved, that will only amp up the emotional charge.

“You’re facing a radical change…”


Your union is not just an emotional one, it is a financial one. Even if all you own is a home and some bank accounts, you still need to decide how to divvy everything up and how to provide for your children whether they still live at home or not. You have one last set of financial decisions to make together.


Lastly, when you married, you entered into a legally binding arrangement recognized by the government. defines marriage as “the legally or formally recognized union of two people as partners in a personal relationship”. It took a legal process to get in, and it will take a legal process to get out.

“Marriage is a legally binding arrangement.”


#2 - Experts in Divorce

Many divorcing couples assume that all they need to get divorced is a couple of lawyers. And this is true, but it’s not optimal. Lawyers are legal experts who can give you advice and guidance on what the law says. But they are not mental health experts, nor are they financial experts.

Mental Health

You might be thinking, “I don’t need therapy. I need a divorce.” I can’t tell you whether or not you need therapy. I can tell you that divorce is a process that provokes strong emotions and is often rooted in conflict. Where does a Mental Health Professional (MHP) fit in your divorce?

While licensed professionals, MHPs are not focused on understanding how your past issues influence your current problems and who or what caused your divorce.

“MHPs are not focused on understanding…who or what caused your divorce.”

Rather, they are focused on you and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse to facilitate a respectful and graceful closure to your marriage to preserve goodwill and a healthy co-parenting relationship.

Unresolved hurts can lead you to fight over assets or custody when you’re trying to rebalance the emotional scales. These fights are costly and corrode your ability to move forward in a positive direction.

In the end, children may be your most precious thing, and engaging a qualified MHP can help you protect them through the process.

Even if there aren’t children, couples who use an MHP report faster, complete emotional resolution, and a greater ability to be at peace and genuinely move past the divorce.

You may meet with the MHP individually or as a couple to identify your goals, develop skills, and discuss things that could derail negotiations. They may attend negotiation sessions to facilitate better communication.

In the end, their role is to help you move through your divorce in an emotionally healthy manner.

Divorce Financial Advisor

A Divorce Financial Advisor might feel like a more intuitive expert to have. After all, you have assets and debts to divide, which can be daunting.

But where, specifically, does this expert fit in your divorce?

This expert is there to educate, analyze, and advise.

There may be assets in your estate you don’t understand well. Or there may be aspects of the tax code that aren’t clear to you. You can’t divide what you don’t understand, so their first role is always to educate.

In many cases, you will run into questions that are tricky to answer. Should we sell the house while we are still married or after the divorce? Can I afford to keep the house? How much of this 401(k) is actually a community, asset and how much is separate? These are all questions that need to be answered with careful analysis.

Making irrevocable, life-altering financial decisions can feel paralyzing. Your Divorce Financial Advisor is there to offer advice. They will do so based on what they know about you, your goals, and your case. Getting input from a third party can give you much greater clarity and confidence that you have reached a fair and equitable decision.

Your financial expert may meet with you individually, as a couple, or in work sessions with your attorneys or MHP.

Learn more about Divorce Financial Advisors


Family Law Attorney

Finally, we come to the Family Law Attorney. Because divorce is a legal process, this is an indispensable member of your team.

Some clients make the mistake of expecting their attorney to be all things to them. Let’s take a step back and look at what your attorney is trained to do.

They are trained in the law and have likely completed continuing education to be effective Family Law practitioners. They are well suited to advise you of your legal rights, educate you on legal processes, draft, and process legal documents, represent you in court and mediation, and act as your legal advocate.

They can be supportive, but they are not a therapist, and they will understand your financial picture but are not financial experts.

You will typically meet privately with your attorney. Sometimes you might meet with them in conjunction with your financial expert or in a work session with your soon-to-be-ex-spouse, their attorney, your financial expert, and your MHP.

Learn more about how to hire a divorce attorney

#3 - The Cost of Divorce

Right now, you’re likely thinking that this all sounds really expensive. And it would be disingenuous of me to pretend that using all three experts instead of just an attorney won’t be expensive.

But you know what’s probably more expensive?

Conflict, dysfunction, and a poorly crafted settlement.

Divorce ‘done well’ can be relatively peaceful and relatively calm and leave both parties on the best possible financial footing. It just takes the right team, the right mindset, and a willingness to do the work.

Curious about Collaborative Divorce? Learn more here.


Special thank you to my co-author Dr. Brian T. Goonan, Therapist & Coach.

Baird and Dr. Brian T. Goonan are not affiliated.