Equitable division of matrimonial property is this advisor’s niche

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Katie Markowski is a financial advisor who also specializes in helping women navigate the business part of divorce.

She is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst with Watermark Financial in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania. While most of her time is spent on traditional wealth management issues like designing investment portfolios, retirement planning and tax strategies, she said about 10-15% of her business applies specifically to divorce. This is where emotions are most likely to be elevated. This is when people find it harder to make decisions with their brains than with their hearts. This is how she often learns that a couple will divorce before the other spouse.

This interview has been edited for space and clarity.

Q: How embarrassing is it when a client confides in you that he is considering a divorce, but hasn’t told his spouse yet?

A: It’s hard because divorce is such an emotional thing. I think a big part of my role is to help them come back to logic. Help them see what will make sense. What will work for both parties because I’m not a big fan of the “take them for all they’re worth” method. I think it should work for everyone.

But I intervene in the process at all stages. Sometimes even before people have told their spouse that they are considering divorce. They can come to us first to see how financially viable they would be. And sometimes I come at the end just to see the marital settlement agreement and make sure there’s nothing left out. So from start to finish it really varies when and where I get involved.

Q: What made you seek certification in this niche of the financial services industry? Why do you mainly work for women going through a divorce?

A: I entered an already established business that focused on divorce. This is something that many people who are divorcing need – financial advice and financial advice – but do not always think about involving a third party other than their lawyer to obtain this advice.

We are a women-owned business and women like it. I occasionally act as a mutual representative, or just sit down with both parties and sort of explain everything to them. But most of the time I’m a defender and it’s usually for women.

Q: What are some of the unique aspects of women’s representation when judges try to determine a fair distribution of assets in a divorce?

A: With the older generation, many women were the lowest earning spouse who could have stayed home with the children. With the younger generation, we see dual-career couples and dual-income households. In gray divorces – as they are called – we often see the wife being more dependent or less financially sophisticated than the husband.

Q: Which asset is the most fiercely contested? The 401(k)? The House? A company?

A: It depends on the situation. The most common assets we see are the home and the retirement plan, and these are pretty straightforward to split. But when companies get involved, it’s a very tricky situation. I recently worked on a divorce where one spouse owned a business that was really impacted by COVID-19. There has been a lot of talk about the real value of the company, as the last two years have been bad. But what are its future prospects? How do you rate something like that? I think anything other than the standard bank accounts, the house, the retirement plan, that’s where things start to get sticky. When you have rental properties or stock options through an employer, that’s when you really need help figuring out what to do.

Q: How would you describe what you do to help determine fair financial distributions for divorcing couples?

A: My job is to look at assets and income streams, then identify the effects – short and long term – of dividing that property, both in terms of equity and taxes. And in those situations looking for creative solutions, I can offer to maybe solve those problems. And then, kind of, run scenarios of what the future might look like for these divorcing clients. Because the decisions they make during the divorce really affect their financial future.

Q: How many of your activities as a financial advisor involve doing a divorce financial analysis?

A: It really varies. I could go months without telling anyone about divorce, and then it seems like the floodgates will open and I’ll have multiple meetings in a single week with new divorces or divorces in progress. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason. Things are always put on hold during the holidays. But it doesn’t seem cyclical to me at all.

Q: How has your business been affected by the pandemic?

A: Many of the divorces I was working on prior to Spring 2020 have been on hold for some time. I didn’t see a lot of new business from spring 2020 to mid-2021. I think people were losing jobs. The kids were suddenly home all day after school or daycare. The pandemic was such an emotionally draining situation to begin with that I think a lot of people just had to put things on hold. And also access to the courts and everything has become more difficult.

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