Create A Financial Plan: The most beneficial thing to do post-divorce is to make sure you know your financial goals and plan for the long term. As someone who examines behavioral neuroeconomics, I have found that money issues correlate with human emotions. Having a robust financial plan leads to less negative emotions. Creating a plan during the divorce proceedings with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst in conjunction with a divorce attorney relieves the most stress for the post-divorce period. If a plan is in place before you finalize the divorce, you know how much to spend, which lifts financial anxiety post-divorce.
Once you have made the decision to go through with your divorce, take the word “fear” out of your vocabulary. It no longer exists! The one word you can replace it with and recite over and over is “control” because now you hold the power and every move you make, you are the decision maker! You are the ruler of your new universe, especially when it comes to the green also known as your dollars and cents. Olivia Summerhill, is the founder of Summerhill Wealth Management and works exclusively with women by protecting their lifestyle during and post-divorce. Summerhill has extensive experience collaborating with divorce attorneys by giving them the ammunition they need to negotiate the most advantageous settlements for their clients.
Ilyssa Panitz: Can share a bit about your background?
Olivia Summerhill: Growing up, the devastating effects of divorce on stay-at-home mothers in ultra-high-net-worth families was apparent. I grew up in a situation with my mother trapped in an unhealthy marriage with no financial power. I was actively involved in sports, volunteering, and school and tried not to focus on what was happening at home. The lack of conversation around how wealth can affect a marriage inspired a healthy curiosity about money, power, and divorce in my adulthood.
Ilyssa Panitz: Is that what led you on this career path?
Olivia Summerhill: My previous position connected me with female clients who continually referred their newly divorced friends for investment advice and planning. I quickly figured out that their main concern was not investment tips for their settlement but discreet advice on the daily family spending obligations now that their divorce was final. These were fundamental issues that these women did not have to think about before getting a divorce. Many high-net-worth women have never dealt with credit scores, how to qualify for a mortgage independently, or how to buy insurance. Determined to address these overwhelming issues, I started my firm. By doing so, I have become a trusted advocate for affluent women who want expert money guidance. Shortly after graduating from college, I entered the financial field. By the time I was in my mid-twenties, my finance career had led me to manage portfolios for high-net-worth business owners and families. Due to my age and gender, when I would go into financial board meetings, they often thought I was an assistant. After introducing myself, I found it interesting that I could sit in the boardroom with all white, older men and command their attention while going over their extensive quarterly retirement plan’s earnings and returns.
Ilyssa Panitz: You are passionate about helping women understand the financial world, especially when/after going through a divorce?
Olivia Summerhill: A woman came to me after years of an unhappy marriage. She wanted out but had no clue what her financial picture looked like because her husband had always managed her money. She had no concept of the family finances, so what was she going to do? As a stay-at-home mom, she stayed longer than she wanted to for the money, and although it sounds terrible, it is a similar story for lots of women. When used to a particular lifestyle, leaving can be the scariest thing because of the finances. We teamed up to ensure she had her finances, goals, and an action plan in place. The result was that she not only got through the divorce, but she also gained happiness, confidence, and independence!
Ilyssa Panitz: What did her story teach you that you can use as an education tool for other women?
Olivia Summerhill: I learned that communication about finances after the divorce and retraining the ways you spend money are crucial. However, you can also gain happiness by openly communicating about finances while still married. Honest financial communication in a relationship is essential.
Ilyssa Panitz: Why do you think women come to you?
Olivia Summerhill: They come to me because they need someone confidential, confident, but not cocky to help them with their financial matters during and post-divorce.
Ilyssa Panitz: Do you feel they relate better to you since you are a woman?
Olivia Summerhill: Absolutely. Finances are intimidating, and divorce is daunting. Walking into a room filled with all men attorneys and divorce professionals heightens the uncertainty for women. Me being in the room makes clients more comfortable.
Ilyssa Panitz: How do you put their minds at ease about “finances” when the topic seems too foreign to them?
Olivia Summerhill: Immediately making sure my client knows that she is not the only one who perceives finances to be foreign puts her at ease. I make it apparent that this topic scares almost everyone, including players in the financial field. I also keep terms uncomplicated and do not flaunt my knowledge. The bottom line is that I make sure she knows she is not alone and knows that her feelings about money are okay.
Ilyssa Panitz: How important is it to know about your financial matters during a divorce?
Olivia Summerhill: I have heard numerous times that people think they have to be mega-rich, like my clients, to consider their financial situation during a divorce. Regardless of how large your household net worth, it is imperative to know about your financial matters during a divorce. What accounts are where, and what assets do they hold? What is your current monthly living standard? What properties and international investments do you own? Does the household have any debts? Anyone who gave their spouse control of the financial decisions during their marriage may feel ashamed but have every right to answer these questions.
Ilyssa Panitz: It is common for women not to have a handle on their financial matters before/during a divorce?
Olivia Summerhill: Yes, very common. That is why mediators, divorce attorneys, and other divorce professionals bring in Certified Financial Divorce Analysts and other financial professionals before and during a divorce to help with financial matters.
Ilyssa Panitz: How do you encourage them to learn about money/investing and everything finance?
Olivia Summerhill: Many times, women do not want to learn about finances and want to ignore their new financial situation. You cannot force the financial discussion on anyone, and it takes time for the new economic reality to set in for many women. I tailor everything to meet my clients where they are on the emotional side, which means when I start to encourage financial conversations is highly personalized. Generally, once we get through the divorce together, we begin by discussing the small financial items first. We start by recognizing short term goals and have in-depth monthly cash flow discussions. These topics are more practical than long term investing conversations. Once we understand the budget and cover the day-to-day financial matters, I see great success when everything from the monthly expenses to the savings is automatic. Making the process easy and taking out any roadblocks is critical. We slowly get to the investment topics and long-term goals when my client is ready to handle the conversations.
Ilyssa Panitz: For a woman who knows nothing about her financial situation, how do you start teaching her about money/investing?
Olivia Summerhill: Having no clue about her financial situation is a common theme for most women that reach out to me. It may sound novel, but we start with her goals and values. Most of the time, she has worked her entire adult life for her husband and children, so she is not clear about what she wants now and in the future. If she can understand herself and learn what her goals and values are, we can create a path for her to get to them financially. That opens the door to speaking more about money, how to get to her longer-term financial goals and investment options.
Ilyssa Panitz: What are some great places/resources she can log onto or read to get up to speed?
Olivia Summerhill: Lots of information online about divorce and money are generic but excellent for a quick overview. She can head to the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts and click on the resource tab for helpful financial forms. Divorcemag.com also has an abundance of useful articles to review all kinds of divorce topics.
Ilyssa Panitz: In your opinion, what are the most common financial mistakes women make during/after a divorce and how can they protect themselves going forward?
Olivia Summerhill: The most common financial mistakes are to give in to the other side’s requests when emotionally drained and to say yes to a financial matter without knowing the consequences. Understandably, many women I work with are married to powerful and controlling men, and these women want the divorce process to be over. They want to throw in the towel without thinking about how the loss will ruin their future lifestyle. Women may not recoup the financial gains they lost if they give up entirely during a divorce or accept something without knowing the other options. Women do not receive what they financially deserve if they make either of these mistakes. They can protect themselves by understanding what they agree to and knowing the long-term repercussions of that decision. Hiring a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst can help her defend what is in her best interest. Post-divorce, working with a Certified Financial Planner can help protect her finances in the future.
Ilyssa Panitz: You talk about how this is now a time for women to make economic decisions. Can you elaborate on what some examples are?
Olivia Summerhill: Once a woman is divorced, she is making economic decisions that are all about what she wants in life. How much does she need to travel solo? What does she want in a home, and how much will that cost financially and emotionally? How is her money working for her, and is she aware of what decisions to make? For example, she may get a retirement plan worth $35 million post-divorce and invest in an aggressive model. Can she sleep at night knowing that account may fluctuate drastically? That may have been her ex-spouse’s risk tolerance, so she now needs to decide if she wants a less aggressive portfolio. Another example on a smaller scale is if a woman desires to keep her Mercedes-Benz G Class post-divorce, she will want to understand what that vehicle costs over time and how to maintain the upkeep. She will have to do the research and talk to the right people in the luxury car industry to make sure she is making the right financial decision.
Ilyssa Panitz: What is the one thing people going through a divorce should be open to changing when it comes to their finances?
Olivia Summerhill: Individuals going through a divorce should adjust their views on their financial responsibilities. They should be open, to making new economic decisions. Whether that is adjusting spending, starting a career, or having financial goals. This process is difficult but necessary. Some may need to shift their role from stay-at-home spouse to a strong leader in the business segment.
Ilyssa Panitz: Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources related to this topic that you would recommend to our readers?
Olivia Summerhill: Susan Guthrie is a divorce attorney with a podcast called, “The Divorce & Beyond” that everyone should listen to while going through a divorce. My favorite fun and easy read for females with helpful tips are in the book, “The New Single” by Tamsen Fadel. For a more in-depth perspective with practical steps on divorce from a divorce attorney, try the book, “The New Rules of Divorce,” by Jacqueline Newman. The non-biased community called, Second Saturday provides online educational divorce workshops for women and builds confidence throughout the divorce process.
Ilyssa Panitz: Are you working on any exciting new projects now?
Olivia Summerhill: I am collaborating with a unique non-profit, “Savvy Ladies,” that helps women make proactive choices with their finances. My involvement includes one-on-one hour-long sessions with ladies discussing their financial plans and goals. In addition to these conversations, I am raising money for the non-profit by competing in an Ironman next year. The more money I can raise, the more it will help women participating in Savvy Ladies’ financial education programs.
Ilyssa Panitz: What are 5 things you would advise someone to survive and thrive during/after a divorce?
Olivia Summerhill: One: Create A Financial Plan: The most beneficial thing to do post-divorce is to make sure you know your financial goals and plan for the long term. As someone who examines behavioral neuroeconomics, I have found that money issues correlate with human emotions. Having a robust financial plan leads to less negative emotions. Creating a plan during the divorce proceedings with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst in conjunction with a divorce attorney relieves the most stress for the post-divorce period. If a plan is in place before you finalize the divorce, you know how much to spend, which lifts financial anxiety post-divorce.
Two: Be Selfish. Post-divorce, one should take all the time they need to get through it. The post-divorce life is the time to be selfish and put yourself above all else as the main priority. To do this, I recommend my clients to set appropriate boundaries. Boundaries include stopping saying yes to the children’s after school activities and extra volunteering opportunities. Instead, I tell them to say yes to time with themselves or get on a call with a friend who can make them laugh! Try not to jump into old routines right out of the gate post-divorce. I had a client who came to me after diving into volunteer work without taking time for herself. My client did not get to know who she was after she was no longer a Mrs. This woman fell right back into the trap of keeping busy with other people’s problems and never took the time to heal and grieve. She lessened her financial anxiety by shopping, which was a short-term solution to the problem. We had to work on getting her to focus on herself and her needs slowly.
Three: Have a Team. Once someone has gotten through a divorce, it is time to develop a trusted team to support you through the long haul. It always helps to have a holistic team on speed dial, such as a Certified Financial Planner, Attorney, Therapist, Accountant, Personal Trainer, Naturopathic Doctor, Life Coach, Etc., to support the new you.
Four: Get Everything in Order. A colossal mistake post-divorce is to not follow through with your divorce attorney’s action items. The best advice is to follow your divorce attorney’s instructions. For example, you may need to update your retirement beneficiaries and change your last name with your credit card companies or, you may need to start packing and sell the house and update your estate plan. These steps take time (and I know they are not fun) but need action on your part once the divorce is final to ensure long-term success.
Five: Own Your Values. My business revolves around being confidential. Nobody who gets a divorce wants to discuss their new chapter until they are back on their feet. While I work privately with my clients as they do this internal work, I shine a bright light and focus on helping them know their goals and values post-divorce in a safe space. You do not have to share everything about your new life with everyone, but you must own your morals and stick to your new life boundaries. Once you have decided your values and are owning them, take action. For example, you decide that your top value is independence; you may figure out that you no longer need the second or third home. You may identify more with spending money and time planning solo trips instead of vacation home upkeep. Or if your new value is education, you may focus more on saving for your child’s educational fund instead of fighting post-divorce with your ex on who is always late to pick up your son. Pick your battles and know your standards.