Presenting Divorce Settlement Data in an Informative Way

June 19, 2017

How many times have data heavy presentations made you wince? Particularly in an anxiety heavy meeting where discussions about marital property division discussions will take place.
More people are visual (rather than auditory or kinesthetic) learners, so the presentation of numbers seems natural to the creators. But the viewer has to start from scratch without knowing the context or how the numbers were derived.
Consider a divorce settlement analysis that focuses on future financial sustainability. The analyst will typically illustrate the year end net worth of a client over a specific time horizon. Inputs to the calculation are income, living expenses, spousal support, child support, assets  and  liabilities. Variables include the assumptions about growth of these inputs.    
Viewers usually want to get comfortable with the assumptions first, prior to seeing results. Usually a data matrix or line by line chart works best. And reviewing in advance of a formal meeting is always a good idea. Robust discussions are usually needed to develop consensus on growth assumptions for wages, expenses and investment gains. Assumptions can be illustrated in various ways. Bar charts work well for income and expenses.
With respect to results, net worth is typically shown as a bar chart over time. These are described as linear based results, with values changing based on inputs that increase or decrease at the same rates. We know from economics that business and market cycles vary over time, and do not necessarily progress in linear fashion. Helpful in supplementing the linear analysis is providing a range of probabilities that results will be achieved. This enables parties to focus on a measure that more realistically reflects the future economic realities they may experience years after the divorce settlement and marital property division.
From the viewer’s perspective, properly constructed visuals of these results will use white space effectively so the viewer is not overwhelmed. Data will be limited to only the key components. And contrast should be high so the viewer can distinguish between data sets, or important information.
Presenting information where divorcing parties are negotiating over financial assets is greatly helped if the outcomes are defined in advance. What do the parties want to see? What parameters will provide a high degree of comfort that marital property division objectives are being met? Can the results be narrowed down to the parameters that matter most to all parties? Is there a defined success or failure threshold?
Defining what is meaningful to the parties is a win-win when dealing with the separation and distribution of marital assets. Illustrating the financial terms and outcomes effectively creates a supportive foundation to a successful divorce settlement agreement.