Don't let infidelity cloud your clients' decisions in divorce

Splits resulting from infidelity outed by this week's data hack of Ashley Madison will involve emotional hurdles advisers need to manage

Jul 21, 2015 @ 1:09 pm

By Liz Skinner

Divorces that result from infidelity outed by this week's Ashley Madison data hack will involve extra emotional hurdles that financial planners need to help clients get over so they make the right financial moves.

“It might feel good to spend half a million dollars in an attempt to drag the spouse who had the affair through court proceedings, but it may not be a good use of their capital,” said Andrew Samalin, principal of Samalin Investment Counsel.

(More: Most expensive celebrity divorces)

Personal information of the 37 million users of the AshleyMadison.com site, designed to connect people seeking extramarital affairs, was stolen by a group that wants site owner Avid Life Media to shut down it and another site designed for hookups. Thousands of member records reportedly were posted online for a time before the site, which boasts the tagline "Life is Short, Have an Affair," could have the information removed.

Karen Baer, a senior financial adviser with Triton Wealth Management, said in contentious cases when the two sides won't talk to each other, it makes the proceedings long, drawn out and especially expensive.

“When someone is emotionally wounded, it's so hard for them to set that aside and focus on what's going to serve them best in the future,” she said.

TRY TO AVOID DIVORCE COURT

Ms. Baer's firm works with clients to help them focus on the financial decisions that are most important down the road.

“Our goal is to figure out how to make it work for everyone for the future,” she said.

One thing financial advisers can do is to guide clients toward cheaper resolutions than divorce court, such as mediation or collaborative divorce proceedings.

Mr. Samalin, a divorce financial planner, said automatically jumping toward divorce shouldn't be the first thought if a spouse is revealed to have an account on Ashley Madison, or even if there has been actual infidelity. Talking with a mental health professional to discuss the particulars of the relationship should be the initial move, he said.

Activity on an affair website “could be a symptom of some dynamic that might be fixable in a relationship,” Mr. Samalin said.

(More: Financial lessons from the timing of Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck's divorce)

When such relationships proceed to divorce though, the financial adviser needs to keep in mind that the client's mental state may be clouded by noneconomic issues, Mr. Samalin said. Advisers can help clients differentiate between thoughts motivated by anger and distress from the cheating versus logical thinking about the economic ramifications of divorce, which is financially stressful.

“It's the adviser's role to add a sense of reason and rational thought to the process and to the client,” he said.

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