ALEX KRUTCHIK | Cleveland Jewish News

Going through a divorce can be one of the most stressful events in life. There are many ramifications both in your social life as well as your financial situation. This can be especially true for those who were married a long time and established a life together in older age.

Jill Friedman Helfman, co-partner-in-charge with Taft Law in Cleveland, and Andrew Zashin, co-managing partner with Zashin & Rich Co., LPA, in Cleveland said there are a few steps people can take to make the process as smooth as possible.

Zashin, who also writes a law column for the Cleveland Jewish News, said the most important thing he tells clients is a person needs to be their best advocate. Every client knows their story better than anyone else, so they have to be very clear about their story, he said. When they go to meet their lawyer, they have to be prepared.

“What the client needs to be able to do is tell the lawyer their story in a digestible, understandable and useful way,” Zashin said. “That is going to help the lawyer understand them and the case better. Every client needs to be their own storyteller, and they need to do that in a compressed, understandable, compelling and persuasive way.”

Helfman said the first thing she advises clients to do is to become knowledgeable about their financial situation.

“A lot of times, there is one spouse who is the hands-on person with the money,” she said. “Maybe they pay all the bills and figure out where the investments go. And the other one isn’t as knowledgeable. So, at the beginning, the first thing you really need to do is to understand what your finances are, perhaps gather documents so you can become more knowledgeable and interview attorneys to try seeing what the right fit is.”

A common mistake Zashin said he sees is overdependence on the lawyer, their predictions and on the preparation they can do.

“If you don’t relate facts clearly to them, the lawyer can’t know things if you don’t tell them everything,” he said. “You have to make sure that your lawyer is armed with the best possible information. You have to take some responsibility for your own case. You can’t just hire them and expect the lawyers to run with the ball and know everything about you, your case, the facts, and every last bit of information. You have to be present. Not just physically present, but in the figurative word ‘present’, you have to be involved in your case.”

Helfman will ask her clients about their goals, whether it’s five or 15 years down the road. These questions can include whether they want to stay in their current home when their children get out of school or if they want to move to another city, she added.

Once she sees their financial picture, she will work with the client to see if they’re able to meet those goals or if there’s a way they can negotiate something that allows them to do that.

“For example, if they say ‘in 15 years, I want to make sure I have a house that’s fully paid for,’ then we have to look to see if we need to, for example, trade retirement dollars for cash so that the person has enough cash to have no house payments,” Helfman said. “Maybe they want to take some of the investments that the parties have and pay off the house that they have so that they have no mortgage because they don’t want the pressure of that.”

However, Zashin said divorce proceedings can bring positive change, too. He said people may have been financially inefficient during their marriage, and that a good lawyer can create new efficiencies in the divorce process.

“If you’ve been doing bad things financially, it’s possible to create new efficiencies that hadn’t been explored before,” Zashin said. “If people have been wasteful with their money, now’s a chance to retool. You may be able to find ways to do things better and more efficiently in terms of how you’ve saved, how you invest and clean up your act. And in the case of a situation where people are young enough, you can start accumulating wealth.”

This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.