A divorce is something you never want to think about until you’re one of the people for whom it suddenly becomes the most important thing in your life. Filling that information vacuum are Patrick J. Kilbane and Caitlin Frederick. In their new book, Move Forward Confidently: A Woman’s Guide to Navigating the High-Net-Worth Divorce they explain exactly what happens in divorce proceedings and everything readers will need to navigate it successfully.
On Author Hour today, they discuss why a divorce lawyer is not actually enough. Red flags to look out for and the importance of focusing on mental health throughout.
Jane Stogdill: Hi Author Hour listeners, I’m here today with Patrick J. Kilbane and Caitlin Frederick, authors of Move Forward Confidently: A Woman’s Guide to Navigating the High-Net-Worth Divorce. Patrick and Caitlin, thank you so much for being with us today.
Patrick Kilbane: It’s great to be here, thank you.
Caitlin Frederick: Yes, thank you.
Jane Stogdill: Okay, you all do the kind of work that I imagine people hope they will never need and then sometimes find themselves suddenly being very happy to have. Tell me about the desire to write this book and how it came to be?
Patrick Kilbane: Sure, Jane. I’ll start off. I spent nearly a decade working at large law firms throughout the State of Florida and guiding high-net-worth women through the divorce process, and I always had much more fun with my clients. A lot of these people who became friends after the fact, once they were done I got to see the change.
Almost a decade ago, I joined the current job that I have Ullman Wealth Partners, and I’ve taken this expertise that I have in wealth management and my legal background to start helping the women who were going through the divorce process start to think about that change. To have the end in mind and what their life is going to look like after the divorce case is over with, and to help them and their lawyers start to make these decisions while the case is going on.
Caitlin Frederick: I started out in more of a typical CPA and valuation role. I had actually gotten to this specific sector of the industry sort of by accident, but through that, by growing up on more traditional way, I’m able to work with Pat and say, “You know what Pat? Someone who didn’t grow up with such a strong legal background like you, doesn’t know XYZ.” Even simple things like how a mediation works.
When I talk with people and they’re asking, “Well, how does it work?” The first thing I always say is, it’s not like in the movie Wedding Crashers because that’s the first scene that everyone always thinks of for a divorce, where you’re all sitting in a room together and you’re hashing it out at a table.
It’s little things like that, that are nice to be able to explain to clients and do it in a more of a relaxed way. I think when people go to see an attorney, they’re kind of automatically a little bit more stressed, and this is just a nice way to help people explain the process in a lighter manner.
Who Needs Move Forward Confidently?
Jane Stogdill: Tell me more about the client and the reader.
Patrick Kilbane: Our typical client is a woman who is married to someone whose spouse was the breadwinner, they have all the relationships with the CPA, the estate planning attorney, the wealth manager, maybe somebody who helps them with property and casualty insurance.
Now all of a sudden, they’re left without that team, without that support system that they had around and, candidly, they wouldn’t necessarily trust those people from their soon to be former life because those people may be loyal to their spouse.
We’re in a unique position to really help garner that trust and help set them up with a brand-new team who they’re going to feel comfortable with and trust.
Reassurance from the Start
Jane Stogdill: I imagine people come to you, these first meetings, they’re in a lot of distress. What’s the first thing you say to a new client?
Patrick Kilbane: I tell them that because I’ve shepherded so many people through this process over the years that they’re going to be okay. I’ve seen thousands of these cases. Start to finish, I’ve helped some people through the process two and three times, I’ve helped their children through the process, and I helped them understand that if they follow their advice, they’re going to be okay, it’s going to work out.
The great power from the wealth management perspective is we can help translate whatever that settlement agreement is for them and show them in black and white that it’s actually going to work.
Caitlin Frederick: Another thing that we try to help them with is, I think a lot of people initially get kind of their list of to-do’s that they have for the divorce and they get instantly overwhelmed because there are a lot of steps to the process.
So what Pat and I try to do and what we try to explain in the book is break it up into more manageable pieces.
Pat always says, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” That really helps people realize, “Okay, it’s not so overwhelming. I can do it. I’ll go through it piece by piece and get to the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Jane Stogdill: Is it common for your clients to have a degree of illiteracy in that area?
Patrick Kilbane: You really hit the nail on the head, and I think one of the tough parts for somebody going through the divorce process is the lawyer is so busy. They bill by the hour and they have a number of cases, and I think the service that we provide is more of a concierge service where we perform kind of a dual education function for the client and break those terms down.
You can kind of see when they’re starting to get puzzled or have a perplexed look on their face, and I can say, “Hey, did you understand what your lawyer was saying?” Or “Do you understand what she meant?”
I think the lawyers are used to taking the bull by the horns and doing their job.
Imagine standing at the kiosk in a shopping mall and you see the map of the mall and you see that sign that says, you are here. The map helps you understand where you need to go, what shops you need to pass to get to wherever your ultimate destination is.
Now, I think some lawyers don’t educate their clients about the process and don’t necessarily show the work and how they’re going to get through steps A, B, C and D and help them understand, “Okay, this is where we are, this is what comes next, this is why this next step is here—and it may not be something pleasant for you but this is why this has to be done.”
At the end of the day, I think one of our main functions is giving them that confidence, pulling back the curtain for them and helping them understand where they are in the process.=
Jane Stogdill: The book goes into great detail about what happens during divorce proceedings. Tell me why it was important to include all of that information.
Patrick Kilbane: In all of my time in the litigation world and being around law firms and the materials that are available to people going through the process, I’ve never seen a book that really kind of pulls back the curtain and says, “Hey, this is what really happens, this is what really goes on, this is how this works.”
I feel like the person reading the book, hopefully they can get through it and they say, “Okay, I feel like I have a better idea of what I’m about to get myself into. It sounds very unpleasant, but I feel much better about the process and like I’m going to be able to get to the other end unscathed if I follow the steps that are laid out in the book.”
Choose a Lawyer
Jane Stogdill: One of the first chapters is offering readers advice on how to pick a lawyer. What are the main takeaways of that advice?
Patrick Kilbane: A lot of people, this may be their very first experience with the legal system. Marketing firms and search engine optimization companies are very savvy at promoting people or a service provider that may not necessarily be the best fit.
That chapter is really, again, an insider’s guide for somebody who maybe this is their first brush with the legal system to pick the book up and say, “Okay, if I follow these steps, if I get recommendations from people who have some sort of nexus with the system and somebody who is really experienced.”
There’s a lot of great lawyers, but I don’t think there’s a lawyer who is necessarily a one-size-fits-all. For example, Jane, if you were going through the process and child custody was an important issue, you want to find a lawyer that really has a passion and a desire to do that because some do and some don’t.
There are some lawyers that really want to focus on the economic issues of a divorce case and maybe we’ll get to it in later in the book, there is a chapter on business evaluations and what happens if there’s a business that’s involved in a divorce. The business has to be divided up.
Caitlin has experience on the business valuation aspect, and that’s another strength that she brings to the table and why she’s included as a co-author in the book. She really helps the person going through that process understand how that works within the context of a divorce.
Form the Team
Jane Stogdill: You dedicate a lot of ink in the book toward the importance of having a team with varied expertise—just a divorce lawyer is not enough in your opinion. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Patrick Kilbane: The divorce lawyer is sort of going to be like the general practitioner physician, right? In these high-net-worth cases, when there is a business involved, when there are complicated tax issues, maybe there are complex trust and there is estate planning scheme that’s very complicated for a myriad reasons, maybe there’s insurance that was involved in the estate plan…The lawyer is going to know enough to bring in the right expert to help them really understand and sink their teeth in to those issues that they may not necessarily have the requisite expertise in.
Social security could be another example. Or maybe the client is just really, really struggling with the emotional issues of the divorce and certainly the lawyer doesn’t have the requisite psychological training to help somebody, but they probably have somebody on their team who can assist with those sort of softer and intangible issues that the client maybe wrestling with while the case is going on.
Red Flags and Hangups
Jane Stogdill: What are some of the things that people should be weary off or looking out for when they’re going through this process?
Patrick Kilbane: I think especially in the more sophisticated cases, there are more issues that you wouldn’t get in a less complex divorce. For example, when assets are divided it is very helpful that you’re involving a CPA and you are paying attention to the cost basis, you know, the tax consequences.
Under Florida law, when assets are distributed when they go from one spouse to the other spouse, there is no tax consequence. But when those assets are sold, that’s when the tax consequence comes into play.
For example, a marital residence, a married couple can exclude $500,000 worth of capital gains from their tax liability. But one person gets the house and then they sell it after their divorce, well then they can only exclude $250,000 of the capital gain. Another prominent red flag that we see all the time sort of gets filed under the area of things that slip through the cracks. So when a qualified retirement account has to be divided, there is another court order at the conclusion of the case called the “qualified domestic relations order” that has to go to the plan administrator of the retirement account to divide up that retirement account.
The ERISA federal law dividing that retirement account requires that, so sometimes if that slips through the crack, the client may assume that, “Well hey, the court order says I get half of my spouse’s retirement.”
Well, you do but not really until there is that subsequent order that actually is the catalyst for the division of the account and the creation of the separate account for the person receiving the money.
Caitlin Frederick: Another caution where there is a business involved, you want to make sure that people understand is how the business will get divided between martial and non-marital property. If you think for example that a married couple has a business that’s worth $100 million, say that a significant portion of the business is directly attributable to the husband specifically.
If Pat has a business and it’s called Pat’s Mechanic Shop and all of the customers come there because of Pat’s specific relationships with them, Pat can make the argument that he is really the specific driver of that business. If it gets determined that 90% of it is solely attributable to Pat’s relationships, that’s called personal goodwill. So then when you go to divide the assets of the business up, someone who is not educated on this might think, “Okay, well I know he got an offer last year for $100 million.”
He might think, “Okay, the business is worth a 100 million so we’ll split it 50/50 and I’ll get 50 million,” but if it’s determined that 90% of the business is directly attributable to Pat’s relationships, then only the remaining $10 million gets divided in two and split between the two married parties.
In this scenario, instead of the wife getting $50 million, she’d only be getting $5 million, which is half of the ten.
That tends to be a huge shock for a lot of our clients when they initially come in, especially the clients who tend to think, “Okay, my husband and I are still getting along relatively well. So we think we can maybe do this divorce without an attorney and we’ll just reach out to people like you for kind of this additional advice.” Then when they come to find out how the process actually works and the specific facts related to complex issues like when there’s a business involved. That’s really a huge stopping point for a lot of people.
Whenever there’s anything complicated, that’s when it’s especially important to have the right experts on your team.
Jane Stogdill: Yeah, it’s hard to trust people when there’s money involved. I guess it would behoove us all to know who we can trust and make sure that person understands complexity.
Caitlin Frederick: Right and that’s part of too what we’re trying to explain with this book is. Okay, here is the baseline of the issues that you need to be aware of and that you need to ask your team of experts as you start to interview them. See if they are educated on these topics, just to get people pointed in the right direction on what specifically they need to pay attention to.
Taking Care of You
Jane Stogdill: Why is optimism so important? How big of a role does mental health play in these procedures?
Patrick Kilbane: It plays a huge role, Jane. I mean, first of all, I’m going to ask you a rhetorical question but have you ever met a successful pessimist? They don’t exist, right? I mean look, the average contested divorce case lasts between nine and 12 months.
Caitlin Frederick: Which can be exhausting.
Patrick Kilbane: It’s totally exhausting, and every single person who’s involved in the process wants to be done yesterday, okay? If they don’t develop the appropriate coping mechanisms to get in the right frame of mind and know that this is not going to be over as quickly as they want it to be, if they do then they’re going to let their guard down. They are going to start making sloppy decisions just because their emotions are getting the better of them.
A team of experts can quantify those bad decisions for them and say, “Okay, fine. If you want to get out now, you’re probably leaving maybe three quarters of a million dollars on the table.”
And then as wealth managers, we can show them what their portfolio is going to look like when you take three quarters of a million dollars out now and what that’s going to mean for the remainder of their 25, 30 years of their life expectancy. Then when they conceive those data points in black and white, we can help them say, “Okay. All right, my emotions are getting the better of me and I need to just take a deep breath.”
Caitlin Frederick: A lot of it is people just saying, “I’m so sick of this, I want to be done. I just want closure and to move forward,” making those knee-jerk reactions. Where if you know ahead of time, “Okay, this is going to be X amount of stops and this is what I need to mentally prepare for,” I think it makes it that much easier.
Heed the Right Advice
Patrick Kilbane: There’s a recent anecdote Caitlin and I just helped one of our clients through the process—a client married to a lawyer. The lawyer at the beginning of the case kept telling her, “Here’s my settlement offer. If you don’t take it, you are getting bad advice. There’s no way you’re going to end up with any alimony so you should take it…”
Caitlin Frederick: “Don’t hire an attorney, it will just be a waste of money and time.”
Patrick Kilbane: Anyway, 14 months later, the case is concluded. Of course, the wife does receive a substantial monthly permanent alimony award and way more of an equitable distribution than what was initially offered to her.
Patience is a virtue, and being optimistic and trusting your team is only going to help the person going through the process have a better chance at a more successful outcome.
Caitlin Frederick: Really empowering these women to be confident in themselves too. As Pat said in this specific scenario, the now ex-husband was an attorney, so I think the wife probably wrestled with, “Well, he’s an attorney, he probably knows better than I do as a non-attorney.”
That’s another thing is just hoping to educate people so that they do have the confidence to say, “No, I am going to stand up for myself and I am going to go through the process the right way so that I get what I deserve.”
Jane Stogdill: Patrick and Caitlin, in addition to reading the book, where can people go to learn more about you and your work?
Patrick Kilbane: They can go to our firm’s website. It’s www.ullmannwealthpartners.com, and when you’re on our company website, we have a division at our firm called The Divorce Advisory Group that has its own tab, its own resources. We also have a series of videos that can be used somewhat in tandem with the book talking about a lot of the topics that are in the book to help serve as refreshers.
Certainly, our contact information is on there. Please reach out and we’re glad to help you get in the right direction and help you get more of a chance at a successful outcome.
Thanks for joining us for this episode of The Author Hour Podcast. You can get Patrick J. Kilbane and Caitlin Frederick’s book, Move Forward Confidently on Amazon. You can also find a transcript of this episode as well as previous episodes on our website, authorhour.co. Make sure to subscribe to The Author Hour Podcast for more interviews and insights into life-changing books.
Big Brain, Little Brain: Kevin Thomas McCarney