The Great Pause continues to amplify cracks in the family dynamic which may lead to separation and divorce in farm families. In my coaching practice this year for the first time I am navigating transition planning at the same time the founders are leaving their marriage. I am also receiving calls for help from women who once had a decent farm and ranch life and are now on welfare trying to discover where the assets are hidden.
There is hope. Her name is Sara McCullough and like me she is self-employed. I have referred many folks to her for her expertise as a divorce financial analyst. That headline above that caught your attention is her direct quote. Sara has great mediation skills as a fee-for-service planner, and she’ll tell you that she asks divorcing folks the exact same questions as her married clients. Sara has learned to speak to the common interests of the couple, the things they both want. Usually, parents understand they will always be co-parenting the children, so Sara counsels couples after they divorce, and she does it with grace and empathy. Her superpower is to help clients look at things differently.
How do farm families prepare for divorce by using the services of a divorce financial analyst? They don’t.
Sara just expects you to show up for the zoom call and dive into responding to her queries. Her response to being prepared is: “Why? I don’t prepare when I take my car to the mechanic!”
As couples separate, they may work with Sara in separate meetings, and she shares documents freely between the couple. This approach is effective and efficient. She also drives out to farm homes to sit beside the accountant and the farm couple to answer questions in “real-time.”
Here are some helpful questions for all of us, married or separated.
- What is the most important to you?
- What are you most worried about?
How I (Sara) work is to meet with you and your ex-spouse to understand your goals and concerns. I’ll give you a list of the documents I need.
Can you trust that we are working for the best outcome for all?
I know you said that it was important for you to have this specific outcome. Here are my concerns for you if you get that.
I know you’re feeling attacked by your spouse. When you told me how confusing and scary the financial division is, remember your spouse is likely as confused and scared.
Clients tell Sara they “want to know they are going to be okay tomorrow and the next day. Am I doing the right thing?”
Huge grief and loss are real for folks on the divorce journey, Sara says “Clients often feel a lot of shame around a divorce, sometimes family, friends, and advisors use language that increases a person’s sense of shame. It’s time for that to change. You can’t negotiate well or make good decisions when you are feeling ashamed.”
Sara McCullough has carved out a special financial planning niche, starting years ago, as existing clients who decided to divorce refused to separate their planning. Neither one would agree to get a new planner. They had an amicable, not warring relationship, and they like the identical packages of information that Sara shares. Preserving overall family assets was a goal for both people and they didn’t see how two planners would achieve that. Sara is willing to sit with them in the complicated places of life. She helps folks understand in a broad sense how much is going to be allocated in settlements. She challenges clients to put a value on what they do for fun saying “I’m not trying to suck all of the fun out of your life, but are you getting $100 worth of fun out of it?” She encourages her farm clients to save money when they automate their savings automatically out of the sightlines of the farm accounts, even $5000K a month is possible when it automatically is transferred to the savings account.
“Sara Makes Sense” is her podcast that encourages listeners to absorb her financial wisdom and learn from other advisors that she interviews.
I’ve written before about the importance of knowing what you need for family living, and Sara feels many folks don’t really know what is happening with their family living. She says the quickest way to figure it out is off tax statements. Many people like to hide their family living costs and justify their large outflows of cash.
Men are typically initially afraid of endless child and spousal support when they meet Sara. Women tend to be afraid of “not being okay”, in those statements, both men and women are saying they don’t understand how they will each have enough money to cover expenses when they are separate when it didn’t feel like enough when they were together. That’s something that can be worked out, mapped out, and understood.
When you are separating you need to “feel heard” by your former spouse, and not be “firing off at each other.”
As farm women have approached me for advisors, I look to many of my CAFA colleagues, from the Canadian Association of Farm Advisors to give me good referrals. The approach of Alternate Dispute Resolution or ADR as it is known might be able to create a mediated solution and keep you out of court.
Divorce on farms is a long journey, expectations of the “new life” will have to be managed. If you have an amicable approach and consider the needs of the farm successors, you will have a much different outcome than the families who are bickering and hiding assets.
The truth will set you free. Be open and be clear. Remember that your adult children also are grieving the loss of their parental relationships and there are many “unknowns” ahead.
Keep your financial documents well-organized and continue to check in with the current “state of your union.” Financial stress, mental health issues, and addictions are bending the resolve of many farm couples. Internet relationships are flaring up affairs, and folks are seeking connection in the aftermath of much isolation.
It is not always the woman who is left behind. I’ve also had calls from farm men who are in deep pain when their wives have wiped out bank accounts and taken off.
Family secrets and hidden bank accounts do not make a healthy relationship.
Let’s all commit to a culture of transparency, honesty, and grace. It really helps when you cherish your mate and check in often to see how the other is really doing.
There are 4 farms that touch our farm, and each one has experienced a divorce. I care deeply that folks can create new chapters for their lives when they need to let go of their spouse.
One happy now-single woman used a divorce coach, a psychologist from Victoria named Bob Blank, 250-477-2662. It’s not just about the finances, there are a lot of emotional factors that need healthy input and boundaries as you create a new life on or off the farm.
Cherish one another.
Elaine Froese, CAFA, CSP, CHI Coach is wired to help farm families find harmony through understanding.
Did you enjoy What’s possible when people are separating & they don’t want to go to war? You might want to check these articles out too: