It might feel like things are falling apart, but they are actually falling into place.
We wanted to open with this quote because we know how overwhelming it can be when divorce forces you to deal with finance, legal jargon and so many other things that are probably outside of your comfort zone. The most reliable kind of divorce professional won’t just help you feel like things aren’t falling apart, she’ll organize all the details, put them into place and get you moving down the right path toward the fresh start and comfortable future you deserve. We think you deserve the best, and that’s why we’re so excited we get to introduce you to Karen Sparks, one of the top Certified Divorce Financial Analysts in the country. Karen’s insights and full command of the challenges a woman faces in divorce will give you the tools you need to keep building a bright future regardless of where you are in your divorce journey.
Audrey: 00:00 Welcome to Divorce and Other Things You Can Handle. A brand of podcast from Worthy. I’m Audrey, and I’m your host. It might feel like things are falling apart, but they’re actually falling into place. We wanted to open with this quote, because we know how overwhelming it can be when divorce forces you to deal with finance, legal jargon, and so many other things that are probably outside of your comfort zone.
The most reliable kind of divorce professional won’t just help you feel like things are not falling apart, she’ll organize all the details, put them into place for you, and get you moving down the right path toward the fresh start and comfortable future that you deserve. We really do think you deserve the best, and that’s why we’re so excited to introduce you to Karen Sparks. One of the top certified divorce financial analysts in the country.
Karen’s insights and full command of the challenges a woman faces in divorce will give you the tools you need to keep building a bright future, regardless of where you are in your divorce journey. Divorce and Other Things You Can Handle is a weekly podcast. So, make sure you subscribe to keep up with new episodes we’re curating to help empower and uplift you as you embrace your fresh start.
This podcast is for you so join our Facebook group Worthy Women In Divorce to let us know what you think, and what you want to hear. You can also get more at worthy.com/podcast. We’re going to take a quick break, and then we’ll be right back with Karen.
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Audrey: 01:53 I’m very excited to be joined in this episode by Karen Sparks, who is a certified divorce financial analyst. She has been working in the field for over 20 years and she is really changing the way that other people are doing this same job, and we just love her approach and we’re so excited to share how she helps people navigate financial issues during the divorce process, after the divorce process, you’re going to hear all about it on this episode. So, welcome to the podcast Karen.
Karen Sparks: 02:27 Audrey, thank you so much for having me. I feel blessed to be here and I’m very excited to share with your listeners all the information that I have gained through the course of my practice, and give them some insight into the subject of divorce, finances, and how they should journey through that.
Audrey: 02:43 Well, I feel blessed to have you here because I have to tell you, I had a little bit of anxiety when I started thinking how I was going to introduce you, because I don’t think we’ve had a guest on who has quite as much experience, and so much expertise under her belt.
Karen Sparks: 03:00 I appreciate that. Thank you. I appreciate that.
Audrey: 03:01 Yeah. So, for our listeners who might not be familiar with you, why don’t you start by giving just a little short overview of who you are and what you do?
Karen Sparks: 03:09 Alright. Well, professionally I have been practicing as a certified divorce financial analyst for almost the past eight to nine years. Prior to that my educational journey took me to law school where I obtained my law degree. I don’t currently practice law and I’m not licensed to do so, but I do use that knowledge and that understanding to help inform the financial discussions that I’m having with my clients. So, I think it gives a lot of breadth and depth to what I do.
Audrey: 03:41 Right.
Karen Sparks: 03:41 On the personal side, I am the very proud mother of a rising senior at Northwestern University in the state of Illinois in the United States, and she’s a graduating engineering major next year. So, very, very proud of her and the young women she is becoming. So, I want to plug her a little bit.
Audrey: 03:57 We’re so excited that you’re here to share all of your expertise, and I just … This is the second time I’ve heard about your daughter and I just love when you include a little bit of her story, because I think you know, so many of us are successful beyond our careers and I think your daughter’s time at university right now is just such a beautiful reflection of kind of the 360 look at your success.
So, I want you to tell us a little bit about the services that you offer your clients. You’re the principal and owner of Divorce Financial Strategist so, tell us a little bit about how that works.
Karen Sparks: 04:35 You know, absolutely. I practice primarily as a certified divorce financial analyst so I do not engage in other practice areas of wealth management or anything else. I am totally laser focused on guiding my families through all of the allocations, and all of the strategies, and all of the planning that is involved in the area of divorce finances. And my practice intersects with a lot of different areas of it, which I’d just like to take a few minutes to outline for you if you don’t mind?
Audrey: 05:04 Absolutely.
Karen Sparks: 05:05 I review and draft pre and post nuptial agreements. Looking at the financial issues of what that couple is trying to achieve, and I think it’s very important that for those couples that are considering those types of documents that you engage the appropriate professional to make sure that you are including all of the contingencies and things that could possibly come up.
Audrey: 05:05 Right.
Karen Sparks: 05:29 So that document can serve your relationship as best as possible.
Audrey: 05:29 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Karen Sparks: 05:32 Of course, the core of what I do is the financial analysis and review. We also put together the settlement projections for my clients. Oftentimes they come to me in conjunction with working with either a mediator, or with counsel, and if that is the case our goal in our sessions together is to make sure that we are journeying through each of the areas, the financial areas of that marital bucket. And making sure that we’re reaching consensus, and agreement, and understanding on what we are doing.
Key to that process is, making sure that we’re taking care of the tax implications, and we’re looking at any areas that could affect real estate, and any of the other retirement assets.
Audrey: 06:18 Right.
Karen Sparks: 06:18 We’re looking at valuation of those. It is a multi-facet approach that I use, but I also level it so that we’re going through it at a pace, I’m not leaving anybody behind, we’re all tracking together.
Audrey: 06:18 Right.
Karen Sparks: 06:31 Because the cornerstone of my practice is to make sure that individuals are informed and engaged in this process, and when they walk away they understand exactly what happened, and why it happened.
Audrey: 06:41 Right. You know, something that really stands out to me about the way that you talk about working with your clients is, you say families a lot. I just love that, because so many professionals, they have their client and they’re serving their client, and I think the way that you look at it, it’s like you see the whole picture. You’re seeing the numbers, you’re seeing the emotion behind the situation, and you’re able to look at the big picture of who the other people are involved. I think that’s so refreshing, and I just … I love that.
And I also think you know, you mentioned so many different things here that can be so overwhelming for somebody who’s going through this, and you know, you might be at the very beginning of your divorce journey, and some of these things may sound totally foreign to you, which is exactly why you need someone like Karen, who can make sure that all of your bases are covered, and that you know all of the details and are mindful of what’s to come, and how to best handle it.
Karen Sparks: 07:37 Absolutely. And, because I think this illustrates the journey that I like to take my families through when they’re working with me. I like to quote from an excerpt from a book that I contributed to last year that was published, The Stress Free Divorce. And I just think this sort of capsulizes where I like people to eventually start and begin.
Audrey: 07:59 Yeah. This sounds like a book everybody can get into.
Karen Sparks: 08:03 Absolutely. But before we get into that in a larger sense, I just wanted to quote from it for just a little bit here. So, “Knowledge reduces stress. The absence of stress leads to more informed decisions. The ability to make informed decisions results in an atmosphere of confidence, and peace of mind. Peace of mind allows you to live life strong during and after divorce.” That is an excerpt from my contribution to the book The Stress Free Divorce.
Audrey: 08:31 I love that.
Karen Sparks: 08:33 But I just think that, that really capsulizes the purpose and journey that I try to take my families through.
Audrey: 08:38 Right. I think what you’re talking about in that piece is, this idea that being aware of what’s going on allows you to be confident and have that strength, and that power, and I think for so many people this is a time where you don’t feel any of that. It feels like things are really out of your control. And I just think it’s amazing that you’re really able to provide your clients with that peace of mind that you were talking about, because they know that you’re there helping them cover all of their bases.
I’m so glad you read that.
Karen Sparks: 09:08 No, no problem. And I think that because it is such an overwhelming topic, you hear a lot of things, there’s a lot of books, there’s a lot of information on the internet, there’s a lot of information coming at someone considering going through divorce.
Audrey: 09:08 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Karen Sparks: 09:22 And I think it’s appropriate to slow that process down a little bit. And working with me, I’m going to make sure we do that, because we need to slow it down, and sometimes it takes off from the station.
Audrey: 09:33 Right.
Karen Sparks: 09:33 From an experiential and a reactionary point of view, all of a sudden things are happening, or folk who care a lot about you are speaking into your life. And so, you need to turn the noise down a little bit.
Audrey: 09:45 Right.
Karen Sparks: 09:46 And sort of focus on this, and I try to make sure that we’re doing that as we’re coming through a lot of some very complicated and challenging issues in some of my client family cases.
Audrey: 09:56 Right. So, you had mentioned earlier that you have a law degree and you’re not practicing or licensed currently, but I think this is one way that you’re really able to help your clients beyond what other CDFA’s might be able to do. So, I’m really interested to know how your law degree contributes to what you provide for your clients.
Karen Sparks: 10:21 Well, first of all, from a psychological point of view I understand both sides of the picture.
Audrey: 10:25 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Karen Sparks: 10:26 There is of course a financial analysis side, in some cases there may be a therapy side depending on what’s needed in that particular journey, but there’s also a court side to the process, and there’s also a paperwork side to that process. And so, just being able to give them some guidance, let them know what they can be looking at, a lot of times individuals have questions about things that become very challenging, what happens if they have to take that to another level? Letting them know what the timing of that may look like if they were to … You know, to engage in that.
Audrey: 10:26 Right?
Karen Sparks: 11:00 What is that timing? What’s the cause and effect financially for you to take that piece of discord to another level? And try to get some determinations there. So, my clients do find it helpful to at least know that they have that kind of knowledge, and that kind of experience in the same meeting room with the financial discussion.
Audrey: 11:23 Absolutely. I can only imagine. It’s like a bonus.
Karen Sparks: 11:26 Yes.
Audrey: 11:26 And I also … I think it’s amazing what you provide for your clients from so many different sides. You’re not just seeing the big picture, but you’re looking beyond just the financial aspect. And I think it’s a really amazing thing. So, I want to know … And I think our listeners are probably wondering, when in their divorce journey is a CDFA relevant? And is it something that they should approach with their ex, or on their own? How can a CDFA help you and when?
Karen Sparks: 11:54 Alright. So, there are different levels of information, and knowledge in parts of the journey. So, I would say a certified divorce financial analyst is a key person actually when you’re thinking about it. I do have a good percentage of my practice where I do receive calls from individuals who may not have communicated this thought completely to their spouse, but they’re wondering, “If we cannot hold our marriage together what is that going to mean for me financially?”
Audrey: 12:24 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Karen Sparks: 12:25 And I have men and women coming to me with this inquiry, and I feel that investing some time with a CDFA just in a pre-conversation is good. Maybe you won’t need this conversation ever, but if you do need this conversation, you are then stepping to the point of that decision more informed. You’re more educated, you know what’s going to happen if spousal support, alimony, or maintenance, depending on where you reside, if you’re going to be needing some support as a lower wage earning or no wage earning spouse, what’s it going to look like for you?
Audrey: 12:59 Right.
Karen Sparks: 13:00 Is it reasonable for you to consider staying in the marital home? Or should you be considering something else? These are things that I work out in planning discussions with clients who contact me with these concerns. And we engage for certain periods of time in order to give them that, to work through some projections and what have you not. Now, for the families who are already there, that decision’s been made, perhaps counsels been contacted or maybe they’re filing their paperwork on their own.
Audrey: 13:26 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Karen Sparks: 13:27 It is something you cannot afford not to do, to have a financial professional involved in those discussions. I know that the university of the internet is vast, and everyone … I call it the university of the internet.
Audrey: 13:43 I love that. How many degrees do we all have?
Karen Sparks: 13:46 From the university of the internet.
Audrey: 13:46 Right.
Karen Sparks: 13:49 There’s a lot of courses being offered out there, there’s a lot of stuff going on and it is an excellent source to start, but it is certainly not how you want to journey through it. The average person doesn’t know how to parse through what is appropriate. And more importantly, the financial information needs to relate to your specific circumstances.
Audrey: 14:08 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Karen Sparks: 14:09 And the university of the internet doesn’t provide a unique experience for that.
Audrey: 14:13 Right. That’s true.
Karen Sparks: 14:14 So, having a certified divorce financial analyst as a part of your disillusion team is going to give you the research, the analysis, and the strategies that are applicable to your situation, and that will see you through to the end of the line. If you follow what I’m saying.
Audrey: 14:33 Yes.
Karen Sparks: 14:33 So, we can take our projections out 10, 15 years if you want to just sort of see what your net worth is going to look like. You’re getting a picture post divorce that doesn’t just stop with the signing of the divorce decree by your jurisdiction. We’re looking at what’s your life going to look like beyond this as well, and giving you those planning tools as well.
So, I would say that’s essential. For those who maybe have already gone through the divorce process, everything is done, I have had instances where I’ve been contacted by clients who simply didn’t anticipate something happening that wasn’t included in the stipulation of the marital settlement agreement.
Audrey: 14:33 Uh-huh [Affirmative]
Karen Sparks: 15:14 And now they’re coming back to me to just work out some finances without have to reengage an entire process all over again.
Audrey: 15:20 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Karen Sparks: 15:20 So, I have had that happen as well. So, of course for those considering marriage, I think it’s a good idea to sit down and really be transparent about your finances as you’re planning for your nuptials so that your marriage can get off to a right start as well. So, I think at all different levels having a CDFA involved in your financial discussions is mission critical.
Audrey: 15:42 That’s great. It really is something that before, during, and after there is value for people who are looking to really have I think that peace of mind that you spoke about in that excerpt that you read, because knowledge really is power and this is something that we really can all take control of, and there’s no shame in asking for help, especially when there are so many CDFA’s who really are able to help you take full control over this and plan out what’s next for you in responsible ways.
Karen Sparks: 16:14 Absolutely.
Audrey: 16:14 I know that you work on training other CDFA’s, and I’ve read a little bit about your approach and it seems like everything is about fostering respect and sensitivity, and not just looking at the numbers but really looking at the clients. So, I want to know a little bit about what that’s like, and how you approach this.
Karen Sparks: 16:38 Well, what I have done is, I’ve crafted a course that is available to new CDFA’s who are coming into the practice. And the reason why I did this, was I found that as I was building my own practice, in the area where I reside I wasn’t able to connect to mentors you know, or those to help guide me to set it up.
Audrey: 16:38 Uh-huh [Affirmative]
Karen Sparks: 17:01 So, what I’ve decided to do …
Karen Sparks: 17:00 Help guide me to set it up. So what I’ve decided to do is provide a benefit to others so they don’t have to come through some of the hard knocks of setting up your practice that I had to do. And I feel that the practice of a CDFA is one based on trust, based on experience, based on proficiency. And I want those coming into the field to reflect those values. I also want to let them know that unlike other financial professionals who intersect in the divorce arena and with divorcing clients, I want them to understand that this is not just a situation where you’re just crunching numbers and giving someone a report.
Audrey: 17:41 Yeah. Do you find that that’s a struggle to kind of change people’s thinking on that? Or do you find that most people who are coming into this profession, they have that kind of sensitivity? And you’re just helping them hone it into a professional skill. What is that like?
Karen Sparks: 17:57 Well, I find that a lot of individuals and professionals coming into the field are coming from very well established practices. Some of them are in wealth management. Some are CPAs. Some are even attorneys who are taking on this designation, so they’re well versed in the areas that they are in. But I find that a lot of times they’re not clear how much of a partner you need to be in this with your families.
Audrey: 18:25 I imagine these people, you say they come from good firms and all different lines of work. And I don’t think they teach sensitivity in grad school. How do you communicate that to them? How do you help make it important to them?
Karen Sparks: 18:41 Well, what I do in my study, and it is an online video conference course that I do teach, but what I do during that time that they engage with me is, I take them through the mechanics of what is involved in that in terms of the interview, how that’s set up, how you’re setting up your client meetings, the boundaries that you’re setting up, recognizing when something actually may not be a case that you need to take, and perhaps that needs to be referred to another colleague.
Audrey: 19:12 Right.
Karen Sparks: 19:13 I have built my practice philosophy on developing a circle of trusted allied professionals, so when I see in my client meetings that perhaps some other work is going to be need to done parallel with what I’m doing, with either one or both people, I’m happy to make that referral and make that suggestion. And the reason why I do is because that makes our meetings more impactful, our meetings more efficient when we’re taking care of those things. When I am training other CDFAs, I’m bringing to light the financial analysis piece that they want to try to gain some experience in, and learning how to work with the software that a majority of us use in our practice, but also understanding that you’re a partner with these families.
And divorce and separation is an emotional process first, and a rational process second.And so you’re not a psychologist. You’re not trained in social work. That’s not your job. But your job is to understand where your clients are coming from to realize that the first thing that you need to do is identify what their priorities are and make sure that the work that you do after that aligns with that as closely as possible.
Audrey: 20:22 You mentioned that the CDFAs that you helped train, they’re all over the country. And actually, I don’t think we mentioned where you are.
Karen Sparks: 20:30 All right. I’m located in the San Francisco Bay area in the State of California. My office is in Santa Clara, California, so this is where I’m based. New CDFAs contact me from their state of origin, so that is actually nationwide. The majority of my client base is in California, but I do serve clients locally and nationwide for all manner of divorce financial analysis that needs to be done. For my clients that contact me outside the state of California, I often advise that you have a consulting attorney available to deal with the in state statutory requirements that are going to be done. However, the analysis and the allocation of money, money is a neutral commodity. My ability to take care of that, I’m able to offer those service nationwide, so yes.
Audrey: 21:18 I really wanted to point that out to our listeners that no matter where you are, not only is Karen an option, but there are all these CDFAs around the country. And so I was hoping you could give our listeners some tips on how to identify whether or not a CDFA is the right fit for them. And what do you see as the ideal client experience through a divorce journey?
Karen Sparks: 21:39 Well, the first thing that you’ll want to do is make sure of how you’re vetting your CDFA, so certainly you can do that from referral. I do have a good deal of clients business that is coming from either other clients or other people who know what I do, so that is certainly a trusted source.
Audrey: 21:58 Right.
Karen Sparks: 21:58 I would certainly recommend that you look at the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysis, the IDFA. Their website contains a list, a very large list, a nationwide list of qualified CDFAs, so you can go there to try to find out who’s available there. You can also reference the Association of Divorce Financial Planners, as there are CDFAs involved with that organization as well. Now beyond that, the next thing you’re going to need to do is of course reach out by either email or by phone. And what you’re really looking for is someone who is understanding where you are, or at least where you’re describing you are to them in that initial phone call, and someone that you really feel is going to be able to journey with you the way that you need to be. In other words, if you’re feeling like your situation may move to a litigated format either sooner, later, or at some point in the process, you’re going to want a CDFA who is comfortable perhaps being an expert witness, for example.
Audrey: 23:06 Right. And that’s something that you have experience with.
Karen Sparks: 23:08 I have, very much so. And so you’re going to want to know that. If you’re engaging a professional mediator to facilitate your divorce discussions, again, you’re going to want to know: How comfortable is a CDFA intersecting with another professional in that way? If you’re doing a collaborative process, and for your listeners who are not familiar with that, the collaborative divorce process is a very user friendly situation wherein the couple agrees to take their divorce out of a litigative process. Each of them have competent legal council. Someone like myself, who’s a CDFA, will be coming in as a financial neutral. And then of course, if we need any type of psychological professionals or whatever. Basically, you’re putting together a team. And that team takes you through the entire process offline, so again, if you’re looking for someone who wants to be a part of that, you want to know that CDFA is comfortable in a collaborative process.
If you don’t know, for example, what you’re going to be doing, let’s say you’re at ground zero. This is coming to you now. It was unexpected. What you’re really wanting to know is: Do you have a CDFA who has the ability to listen and to hear you? Just bottom line, even if you don’t know where everything’s going to go. Are you getting from that initial phone call with that initial meeting with that CDFA, are you getting that? And if you’re getting that, then you know you’re in the right place.
Audrey: 24:35 I think that’s so important because I imagine that a client who is able to find somebody who they feel is really hearing them and able to understand what’s going on with them, it must be such a sense of relief at a time when relationships are shifting. And in many cases it can feel like the ground is falling apart beneath you. Do you find that a lot of your clients feel very close to you and really depend on you as more than just an expert?
Karen Sparks: 25:10 In some cases, yes. I have experienced situations where one or both parties … And again, in my practice I see men, I see women, and I see couples. I’m seeing an increase in couples coming to me because I think individuals are starting to understand that the financial piece of what they’re doing is key. But even that said, a lot of energy comes into a meeting. And all of it’s not necessarily positive. I’ve had people express their gratitude to me because they thought they’d never be able to have this discussion with their spouse without a lot of drama. I’ve had people who have been, either husband or wife, who have not been exactly on board with this process at the beginning, and who were very skeptical say to me at the end, “Wow. I’m really glad we did this.”
Audrey: 25:59 Well, yeah. That doesn’t surprise me because I find you to be very calming. And I imagine in a moment of lots of tension between people who are separating, it’s nice to have you kind of in the middle able to connect with both people and to also see the numbers for what they are, and to kind of refocus things there.
Karen Sparks: 26:20 I’d like to tell a short story if I could about that.
Audrey: 26:22 I’d love that. Go ahead.
Karen Sparks: 26:24 This is very brief. Last year coming back from a parent weekend, I was on a flight coming home. And the door had just closed, and I heard my name being called on the flight. And I’m like, “Who knows that I’m on this flight? Who knows me that I’m on this flight?”
Audrey: 26:24 Yeah.
Karen Sparks: 26:43 And I looked up three or four rows in front of me, and it was the husband of a couple I had helped a couple of years ago. Their daughter is also attending Northwester now.
Audrey: 26:54 Oh, wow.
Karen Sparks: 26:55 And he had gone to parent weekend. He was calling my name out. And he was like, “Hey. How are you? What’s going on?” And what’s important about this story is this couple came to me so challenged, so much drama, so many things going on. He was even distrustful. And they both thanked me for the fact that this divorce was initiated when they had teenage children, one who was on the verge of college. For me to be able to see him, and then I asked him where his wife was, his ex wife, excuse me. She was on another flight. But to know that they both came to parent weekend. They were both there for their daughter. He looked happy. He looked in good shape. For me to see that, that’s all I needed to see right there.
Audrey: 27:40 Oh, that’s amazing. It must be so, so gratifying because I’m sure you really do provide a lot of relief to families. And it’s amazing to be able to see a piece of that.
Karen Sparks: 27:51 It was. I just wanted to tell that little short story because that illustrates that.
Audrey: 27:54 Yeah. I love that. We are going to take a quick break. And then we will come back and talk a little bit more about how Karen runs her practice. And we’re also going to take a deeper look into how gender and culture are affecting the divorce process. We’re going to take a quick break, and we will be right back with Karen.
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We are back with Karen. And Karen, I love that you created an entire workshop about how gender and culture affect the divorce process. And one of the things that we talk a lot about on this podcast is the stigma of divorce and how it makes the process so much harder for women especially, but really I think it’s a burden that society is carrying. I cannot wait to hear all about this workshop, how you came up with the idea, and what it is.
Karen Sparks: 29:24 Well, I crafted the workshop because I felt that there were times, particularly since I am a woman of color, that we tend to look at divorce as a homogenous process. And we really don’t break it down because the cause and effect of divorce affects some of us a little bit differently in terms of how we’re resourced, how much knowledge we have, et cetera. And so I wanted to craft this workshop, which I put together to bring some statistics to the table, which I did do, to bring some noteworthy research to the table, to let folk know exactly how we need to be looking at the subject of divorce.
And as a way of example, I just want to illustrate that our country is extremely diverse. We have so many folk wanting to make this their home from other countries. And they are thriving and enjoying this experience. However, they are still bringing their cultural norms with them. And living in the United States, where we tend to look at divorce in a less judgmental fashion, if you will. It is still somewhat of a societal stigma, but nowhere near what it is for women coming from other cultures where divorce is not even a subject. You take that woman, you have her now immigrating to the United States, living here, recognizing that her relationship is not what it should or could be. She’s dealing with a lot more layers than just the divorce.
Audrey: 30:56 Totally. I mean, it’s almost like an identity crisis.
Karen Sparks: 31:00 It’s worse than an identity crisis because in a lot of times, she is being excommunicated from the family.
Audrey: 31:07 Wow.
Karen Sparks: 31:08 Sometimes both sides of her family. I have had situations, and it’s usually the woman who comes to see me in these situations, where she is shut out from everything. For that woman, it is a deeper layer, a deeper situation. I find that those situations, families are involved in the divorce process oftentimes. I’m interviewed by sisters and brothers of the individual who’s getting the divorce.
Audrey: 31:34 Wow.
Karen Sparks: 31:35 I’m interviewed by them to find out, so it becomes very much a family affair. What is the bottom line of all this? The bottom line of all this is working as a CDFA in this field, you need to kind of be sensitive as much as you can be, do some research, find out whatever you need to find out. But understand, if you have a client coming from another culture who’s experiencing this, understand that it’s not just about the money. She is sometimes going to be starting from subzero. Not zero, but subzero. Subzero emotionally, subzero from an ego point of view, and subzero culturally. And she’s going to have to overcome so many things to get back on her feet. And I just wanted to shed light on how we as women look at money, and then how women are considered in divorce from other cultures, and how we need to meld that whole understanding together. That was the genesis of that workshop.
Audrey: 32:33 That’s amazing. Have you worked with clients who have gone through these kinds of challenges?
Karen Sparks: 32:39 Indeed, I have. I have been blessed to have a very diverse clientele. And I have seen firsthand the physical effects that someone has had to endure because of this, the psychological effects.
Audrey: 32:53 Wow.
Karen Sparks: 32:54 Sometimes we have had to pause our engagements to allow other legal journeys to happen in order to put some things in place. I’ve seen women have to leave careers, have to consider doing a number of things. It can have a bit of heaviness to it, so I will not try to obscure that. But all that I’m saying is to lean in. It’s necessary to lean in. You don’t have to understand everybody from A to Z. But understand that if you’re dealing with a situation where the individual is coming from a culture that wasn’t divorce positive, that person is going to have a little bit more there, and you’re going to want to make sure that when you’re dealing with their financial analysis that you’re getting them settled and straight for the journey ahead. That’s going to be very, very important.
Audrey: 33:45 Yeah. I’m thinking back a couple weeks ago, we did an episode with Nicole Amaturo, and we talked about how it’s okay to want a divorce. And one of the things that we learned from her story was that she had been in this marriage for I think 17 years. And she just felt like she couldn’t end it.
Audrey: 34:00 … years and she just felt like she couldn’t end it. He was a good man, but she just wasn’t happy. So, I think about here she was, living in New Jersey, like you said, in an American society that divorce is legal. It’s pretty common, but she still felt all this pressure to be a good wife and be the kind of woman that’s just going to stick through it even though it wasn’t what was going to lead to a happy life for her and how hard it was for her to make that decision. She told us that it took three tries until she finally went through with it.
Then, you think about somebody who’s from, like you said, a culture that maybe they grew up and they didn’t even know about the concept of divorce or a woman being able to want her own life.
Karen Sparks: 34:50 That’s true. That’s true and I hear this somewhat frequently. The response that a woman will get, who is coming from this type of cultural situation … The family and the friends will say, “And your problem is what? This man is taking care of you. You live in a nice house. You don’t have to worry about anything and so what exactly is your problem? What is it that’s your problem because you have everything that you’re supposed to have,” right?
Audrey: 34:50 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Karen Sparks: 35:20 So it makes that woman’s job that much harder because you’re not even, in some cases, getting family support. They’re turning on you because they feel like, “What are you? Ungrateful? What’s the situation?”
Audrey: 35:33 Right. I think sometimes we forget how powerful culture can be in these decisions and the experience of going through with it. I think it’s certainly not a given that a financial analyst would take a close look this and make it something that the field is talking about and thinking about as they engage with clients and I think it’s just so amazing that you’ve done that and that this is a part of your work. I just love that.
Karen Sparks: 36:04 I think it’s important. We’re a homogenous society, we’re a diverse society and you don’t need to engage in a lot of work on this. I want people to just have more of an awareness, I guess is what I’m saying.
Audrey: 36:15 Yeah. Be mindful.
Karen Sparks: 36:17 Mindful. Yeah.
Audrey: 36:18 I think it goes back to the excerpt that you read about knowledge leads to peace of mind and being able to take care of yourself and take care of your clients and it’s such a beautiful approach. So, I want to talk a little bit more about how you run your practice and what the process is that you’ve implemented. You’ve told me a little bit about this. It’s called PIE.
Karen Sparks: 36:42 Yes.
Audrey: 36:43 Okay. Let’s break down PIE.
Karen Sparks: 36:46 Let us break it down. So, PIE is a process that I’ve come through to guide and inform what I do. First of all, PIE is an acronym. The P stands for practice, the I stands for insight and the E stands for execution. When I’m looking at how I am approaching my client families and their situations, I start at the beginning with the fundamentals.
At the very beginning of the engagement, we identify what’s important to them, what are the priorities here that we need to concentrate on. In some cases, it’s the retirement assets. In some cases, it’s other assets. In some cases, it’s support. Whatever those modules are, I set those up at the beginning in my initial consultation and again, in my first meeting if we agree to retain to work and that is the model by which I start to build my discussions and my analysis and I follow that model all the way through to the end. So, that is what the P engages in.
Audrey: 37:51 It’s also really nice to your clients I think because it helps them to set some expectations and to have that piece of mind and awareness of what’s to come and what is ahead.
Karen Sparks: 38:04 Absolutely. My client meetings involve a short agenda that I send out as a reminder just so that everyone knows what we need to be accomplishing during the meeting and it’s not a hard and fast situation. Sometimes, we can’t get through certain things. Sometimes, there are difficult boulders and we need to step offline from that boulder and build consensus in some other areas and then come back to that area of difficulty. But I just like folk to know exactly what’s going to happen when we’re coming in and how we’re going to do it, so that’s the practice part.
The insight part is my leaning in to find out what is it I need to be mindful of in this particular family. Sometimes, the individuals are dealing with health problems.
Audrey: 38:45 Before you were talking about the University of the internet and I think this is a really important differentiator that you had mentioned; that this is so tailor fit to every client that you have and this is beyond just having the information. You’re making a specific experience for every client. That’s amazing.
Karen Sparks: 39:07 Each client has a unique blueprint. You would think with divorce … it has its mechanical parts and you would think, “Well, everyone is going through this the same way.” No, not at all. No one has the same blueprint and so I want to find out what is it I need to be mindful of, are there health issues, are there other issues on the table, what’s happening, do we have aging parents, do we have children who are going through some challenges, what is it that we have here, so that our discussions, if we need to financially, can weed that fact in if there are enough resources to address that. The I part of it is the insight and that insight includes some things we’ve already discussed. If I’m dealing with a diverse couple from another culture, then I’m wanting to know what that’s all about and so forth and I want to know what the intentions are, so that’s the I part of the PIE.
The E is really the execution of what we do. That’s crafting the end result. That is the process by which we’re reaching agreement and consensus on the various areas in their particular martial bucket. I don’t leave an area until everyone’s clear on what we’re doing, until everyone is on board with what we’re doing, I don’t leave anybody behind in the discussion and once I know that we’ve closed the circle on that, then I move. So, I try to move in a system that helps build consensus as we go. To make that process as easy as it can for something that’s not easy. Divorce is not easy. I’ve gone through it myself and I know divorce is not easy, so I try to move through it in a way that builds consensus and can take people through with the least amount of damage emotionally possible.
Audrey: 40:46 Right. This idea that you are putting a lot of intention into the different stages of working with your clients and making sure that they’re really comfortable during every step. That’s something that we also try to do at Worthy because, like you said, it’s sensitive and I think it’s just so important to know that you’re working with somebody who is invested in your emotional experience of the interaction and aware of what’s going on with you, so I think that’s awesome.
Karen Sparks: 41:17 Well, it’s an important piece of who we are as human beings. There is a lot of AI discussion right now about how our life can be made easier, but then with the AI sometimes, we’re losing that touch. Losing that. In a journey of live such as divorce, which is so emotionally based, I feel that this is a key part of bringing people through in what your organization does at Worthy in terms of working with individuals with their jewelry, helping them plan financially, helping them to see value in something that they might not have looked at. All of that’s a part of that journey. All of it. All of it.
Audrey: 41:55 That’s right. Yeah. So, you mentioned that you know from first-hand experience that divorce is a really difficult experience and you’ve talked about your daughter. Did you raise her mostly on your own?
Karen Sparks: 42:08 Yes, I did. I raised her as a single parent. I began the thinking of divorce when she was quite young and that concluded right around the time she entered elementary school at first grade. For me, that is why I very much lean into where people are going because I understand where I’ve been. I understand what it’s like to come out of a situation in which there are a lot of negative data points, both emotionally, psychologically and physically and I understand what that’s all about and I also understand what it’s like to build that intention that I’ve mentioned so much about our discussion today because that is how I began my own divorce journey, thinking about what I needed for my daughter, what I needed for myself and what were going to be some of the beginning stages of making that happen and knowing that through that, some of that was going to be painful, that some of it was not going to be user friendly.
But I started with thinking through my plan before I actually executed my plan and I found that that was at least a positive step forward for me, so that’s how I journeyed through it and because of that, I tried to bring some of that insight into the work I do.
Audrey: 43:21 Oh, I think it’s just so clear that the way that you interact with your clients and the way that you’ve built your practice and the way that you’re helping other CDFAs build their futures. You really are hacking it all with empathy and it makes a lot of sense that you’ve been there and you’re able to really put that into your practice as well. That empathy is such a big part of your experience working with clients and the way that you are able to provide.
Really, I think that the service that they deserve, which is something that’s really important to us, and also the reason that we’re so happy that we could have you on this episode because we always want to celebrate not just the professionals and the services, but all the things that women in this situation really deserve and we think they get the short end of the stick a lot, so we want to celebrate people like you who are providing something worthwhile and worthy of these women, if you will.
I want to know, especially as somebody who has been through it too, what does it mean for you to be able to help families through this process and especially women?
Karen Sparks: 44:34 It’s very very gratifying. I know that’s a word that overused in our culture, but it really does signify what it means to me. I think, for me, when I see a woman, when the light bulb goes on … and I will give an example of that. Earlier this year, working with family, she came into the meeting and indicated to me that, “Karen, I get it now. I get what you’ve been trying to say to me. I get it. I get it.” She’s been struggling some of the financial issues connected with her particular situation and just wasn’t confirmed as to how some of that needed to get transformed and I’d been continuing to explain it to her and break it down to her, so that’s what it means to me.
That was why one of the reasons I was so proud to be asked to be a contributor to a published work last year, the Stress-Free Divorce because I feel that this book is a very user-friendly way for someone to take a look at perspectives of divorce from a reading point of view. It’s not an academic book, it’s not a numbers book …
Audrey: 45:48 Karen, you’ll have to send us the link, and we’ll make it available for everybody at Worthy.com/podcast so that they can find it because it sounds like something everybody’s going to want to read.
Karen Sparks: 45:58 Absolutely. But that said, for me, just knowing that women are reaching a point where they can embrace their future. They can embrace it. They understand that the financial parameters of their life have changed dramatically and permanently in some respects, depending on where that woman is sitting in her life, but she knows now what she has. A lot of women use this time of rebirth.
You know how it is. We sometimes put aside some of our own things when we’re building family when we’re building a marriage. Some of the things that we’re interested in, we just don’t have time to do. There’s not money to do whatever the situation is. But now, even though the divorce was painful and not something that we ultimately wanted, you’re now seeing a rebirth. You can step into some of those things that were put to the side or maybe someone didn’t encourage you to do or what have you not.
So when I see women start to take those steps, start to own themselves financially, start to understand their money and how they need to deal with it from now on, working with the right investment professionals, the right estate planning professionals, for me, that’s full circle. I feel that’s making divorce better, one family at a time, who has to go through that. That’s how I see it.
Audrey: 47:11 Absolutely. Yeah. I love that. So, Karen, before we let you go, I have one last question. You have interacted with so many divorced women and I want to know your professional opinion. Is there a bright future for a woman after a divorce?
Karen Sparks: 47:29 Yes. Yes. And if she sets her intention on what her life needs to be, that’s going to be her guiding light, that’s going to be her north star. If you sit in a circle of confusion, no, you will not move forward after divorce and that’s why my practice is dedicated to making sure you’re informed and you’re educated before then you can step forward, then you can step out of the cloud of confusion. You can move forward on the path that works for you. So, yes, there is a bright future after divorce.
Audrey: 48:00 Well, I couldn’t be happier that we were able to have you on. I think one of the things that we started talking about was this idea that with knowledge comes peace of mind and we’re all about empowering women and giving them the tools that they need to get through what can be a really difficult process during the divorce journey and you are such a wonderful resource and we’re so glad to bring you to our audience, so thank you so much for joining us.
Karen Sparks: 48:29 It was my pleasure to be here today. Really enjoyed it. Thank you so much.
Audrey: 48:34 Thanks again to Karen for joining us and to all of you for listening. We are beyond excited to tell you that next week, Laura Lifshitz will be back. Her episode on dating is one of your favorites, and we are so excited to have her on again to talk about dealing with your ex. This is one of the tough parts of divorce that feels like it never goes away, especially when you have kids. It can be really hard to truly embrace your fresh start when you feel like your past is constantly nipping at your ankles, but Laura knows exactly how to deal with this and you are not going to want to miss these tips.
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