Congrats! You Just Prevailed in Family Court. Who is Advising You?

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by Daniel Scott Johnson

Sara (not her real name) was, from the 21st century point-of-view, a bit of a throwback. Raised by traditionally conservative parents, she was taught to believe “a woman’s place is in the home,” that a female’s role in society is that of wife and mother, and that, as “king of the castle,” her husband should be responsible for all household financial matters, both large and small. 

Although a very bright and accomplished student, Sara didn’t use her college degree in Political Science. Forgoing law school after meeting the man who would become her husband at a sorority mixer, she married just six months after graduation. Less than a year later, she gave birth to the first of their soon-to-be three children.

As stated, Sara had little to no say over her family’s financial matters. Her husband had sole access to their checking account and their credit cards. Every month, she was assigned a “budget” and given enough cash to cover the purchase of groceries, clothing, and personal items. As for mortgage, utility, and other bills, her husband handled these online, denying Sara the usernames and passwords that would provide her access. (The only time she got involved in finances was to sign papers prepared by the family’s financial advisor, a man to whom only her husband communicated.)

Now, most people would find Sara’s situation stifling, insulting, and perhaps even downright abusive. However, Sara was content with the lifestyle she had been raised to believe ideal. And for more than a decade, it was. She had a large, comfortable suburban home. She always drove a late-model luxury car. She and her husband took yearly overseas vacations. What’s more, she enjoyed a large circle of friends with whom she enjoyed tennis, golf, movies, and long, leisurely lunches.

But Sara’s 1950s-style Father Knows Best/Leave It to Beaver life came to a crashing halt when her husband announced he was divorcing her to marry another woman. (Ironically, one he said he found “more interesting.”) Both parties lawyered up, and a year later, Sara found herself owning a house worth $2.2 million and half of what she was shocked to learn was a $27 million estate. 

To say that Sara was unprepared to deal with this $13.5 million windfall was an understatement. She had never so much as paid a bill and had perhaps written a dozen checks over the course of her whole life. As a complete financial neophyte, the major challenge she faced was not only how to hang on to her sudden wealth, but how to actually grow it so she could secure her independence and that of her children.

Sara’s situation was extreme—but not unusual. Unfortunately, about half of American marriages eventually end in divorce, and that rate is even higher in California. After their divorce is adjudicated, many women suddenly find themselves solely responsible for managing hundreds of thousands—or even millions—of dollars. And many of these suddenly single women are not at all prepared to protect and grow their sudden windfalls. (While more and more women have become primary household breadwinners, only about half of two-person households are, in fact, “dual-income.” In these cases, the primary earner is still likely to be male, even more so in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Of course, most people, regardless of their gender, need assistance when it comes to responsibly managing their assets after a divorce. But it takes a special kind of financial advisor to shepherd individuals through the financial and emotional complexities common in these situations. It requires empathy as well as financial acumen to prepare and manage a financial plan for the suddenly single.

I created my firm, Windfall Advisors, based in part on my unique personal story. I am a child of divorce. For 20 years, I helped raise my brother, Joey, a special needs person who suffered from both autism and epilepsy and had the cognitive level of a three-year-old child. I know from experience the strains and occasional feelings of helplessness/vulnerability that burden those who must suddenly shoulder responsibilities for which they are not fully prepared.

For two decades, I have made it my life’s mission to provide the most professional, productive, and compassionate wealth management and financial planning services possible, first as an assets management specialist with Wells Fargo Advisors, then a wealth management advisor for Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley, and founded Windfall Advisors in 2020.  Windfall Advisors is a Fee-Only, Fiduciary, RIA Registered Investment Advisor with a proven track record and perfect regulatory record. Today I help manage portfolios, bringing to each client the same level of integrity and compassion that is my company hallmark.

If you’ve recently experienced a divorce and have been awarded a substantial settlement in need of professional management, get the peace of mind you deserve and contacting me today. Together, we can turn the end of one life into the bright beginning of a new, even better one for years to come.

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