Read an Excerpt
WHAT'S A DIVORCE COACH?
What You Don't Know About Divorce CAN Hurt You
Here's a statistic you may have heard before: More than 1 million divorces are granted in the United States every year. Sad, but not exactly earth-shattering news. But here's something that may surprise you nearly 70 percent of those divorces are initiated by a woman, which means that every year more than 700,000 women begin the divorce process.
While divorce is difficult on all parties involved, it can be particularly devastating for women financially, emotionally, and spiritually. And this is true whether she initiates the divorce or whether it's thrust upon her. Divorce can put a severe strain on a woman's finances (both on women who work outside the home and on full-time mothers) and makes it difficult to keep her work life on track while at the same time keeping the rest of her life in balance (particularly since women are often the primary caretakers for the children). In this book, you'll learn how to protect yourself and your family during this turbulent time, whether the decision to end your marriage was one you made or one that was made for you.
Of course, all divorces are difficult. The breakup of a arriage becomes a jumble of confusion, loss, and pain. Intimate partners are pitted against each other. Wrenching decisions must be made. The division of resources is often catastrophic for everyone involved.
Many women have a fantasy that when their marriage breaks up, their soon to be ex-husband (or as our friend Nicole Van Borkulo says, their "was-band") will act fairly, kindly, and reasonably. Or that once their ex is out of their house, he will be out of their lives forever. This fantasy usually crumbles early on in the divorce process. That was certainly the case when my twenty-two-year marriage reached its end.
From Wife to Warrior
When my own marriage ended, I was utterly unprepared, a fact that's all the more surprising considering whom I was married to: a man who was one of the top divorce lawyers in New York City. For years, I'd watched from the sidelines as my successful, high-powered husband negotiated his clients' lucrative divorce settlements (or protected their financial assets, depending on whom he was representing at the time!). And although I heard stories from him about the ways divorce could turn former lovers into bitter enemies, I never envisioned it could happen to us.
But as our own marriage was swiftly and suddenly coming to a close, I found myself in a tough position: in an adversarial relationship with someone who had spent a professional lifetime in the trenches of matrimonial law. He knew all the ins and outs, all the tips and secrets of negotiating an advantageous divorce settlement, and I found him turning that same ruthless skill upon me. My husband and I were now at war, and I was on the defensive. I knew I had to take steps immediately to protect myself and get what I deserved.
In order to survive, I had to be prepared and informed: Preparation is protection. And one of the very first steps I took to prepare for my divorce was finding a good lawyer to represent me. I knew from the years spent at my husband's side that having a first-rate lawyer was going to be my shot at getting what I wanted, needed, and well deserved. My future standard of living, the financial well-being of my children, the amount of security I would have in the future would all be determined by my smarts in cooperation with my lawyer.
But finding a lawyer was not going to be easy, since my husband's smart and aggressive reputation in the field was well-known. He was one of New York's "killer lawyers," and I think many of his colleagues were actually scared to go up against him on such a personal case. One lawyer I consulted with actually called my husband to tell him I was considering hiring him, which I later learned was totally unethical. He broke the rule of confidentiality that governs the legal system, but I was too nervous and anxious to call him on it. I realized then that I was entering a system that had its own version of the established old-boy network. I was going to have to become an active, not passive, part of this process.
Which is why, once I hired my lawyer, I began working to assist him in the case. I realized that I couldn't simply rely on him to do all the work on my behalf, because nobody knew this marriage and my husband like I did. I put together all the financial records I could find telephone bills, credit card bills, receipts, and tax returns. I wrote a biography of our marriage to help jog my memory and bring back dates, details, and significant events. I made a list of my contributions to the marriage, paying special attention to the financial ones. I had an idea about the types of questions my husband's lawyers would be focusing on, and I worked hard to anticipate and defuse any issues that might arise.
For me, being actively involved in the divorce had an empowering effect on my mental state. I approached meetings with my lawyers ready to do battle: I was prepared with questions about how they intended to defend me and what they needed from me to make the process easier. My phone calls to them were brief and to the point (making their jobs easier and my legal bills more affordable). I answered their requests for materials quickly and on time. (They often wanted copies of documents, budgets, or responses to motions.) I requested copies of key correspondence between the legal teams, so I could stay on top of what was happening. And I asked other divorced friends about their experiences and what they felt they could have or should have done better during the process.
Taking this active role proved to be not just helpful it was vital. With my husband's vast matrimonial law experience and his formidable reputation in the field, my legal team needed all the help they could get to stay on top of what proved to be a long and complex case. And sometimes, as hard as my lawyers were working, I had questions that they just could not answer, not out of laziness or neglect, but simply because they didn't have the time or expertise to address all of my concerns. So in effect, I became my own "divorce coach" anticipating questions, doing research, and taking charge of what had been an overwhelming situation.
But in addition to assisting with the practical aspects of the divorce, I realized that what I really wanted to regain was a sense of control during this uncertain time. I was determined that I would not end the process claiming that I had been forced to settle by my lawyers. But at the same time, I was realistic enough to understand that divorce is a compromise and I would sometimes have to give in order to get. I learned to set my priorities, and I found reserves of strength and smarts that I didn't even realize I possessed. It took four painful, grueling years to resolve my divorce. Needless to say, I learned a lot not only about myself, but also about the practical and emotional aspects of the divorce process. I knew how to research information and negotiate a workable child-care arrangement, but I also knew how to deal with that middle-of-the-night phone call from the ex or the thorny custody and financial issues.
Soon after the divorce word spread, and friends and friends of friends began to call me for advice. Based on my personal experience and on long, painstaking hours of research, I was able to show other women how to take control of the unsettling, slow-moving legal process, teaching hem how to substitute strategic planning for emotional responses and how to anticipate exactly what would happen every step along the way. I wanted to help others who found themselves in the same situation I'd been in, and I wanted them to benefit from my hard-won wisdom.
I believe that to be taken by surprise is to be in denial. The divorce process is convoluted; many accusations get made that may have little basis in fact. This does not make them any less frightening or anxiety provoking. If you can anticipate the potential problems and be proactive in resolving them before they even happen, the process will be swifter, smoother, and you'll get a better result in the end.
In 1995, I founded DivorceSource, the country's first consulting firm specializing in the practical issues of divorce. My divorce convinced me that there are inadequate resources for those who need personalized advice and information to help them navigate through this complex and daunting process and that sometimes a lawyer is not enough to get you through to the other side.
Let me be clear: I am not a lawyer. But just as a woman giving birth may want the services of both an obstetrician and a birth coach, so too can a woman going through a divorce benefit from a lawyer as well as a divorce coach. There are some things a lawyer can't, won't, or doesn't have time to tell you. And in a divorce, what you don't know can hurt you.
The Role of a Divorce Coach
But what does a divorce coach actually do? I try to take the mystery out of the process by focusing on the concrete (rather than the emotional) issues that have to be resolved during the divorce process. More often than not, a woman arrives in my office because her husband is leaving or has already left. She comes because her lawyer is pressuring her to make decisions. In nearly every case, she comes to me feeling rushed, trapped, and more confused than ever unsure what her next step should be and feeling paralyzed in the face of pressing demands for action from her husband, her lawyer, and others. I remember that situation only too well. What to do, what to do?
The situations I'm faced with are varied. When Jenny hired me she was at a crossroads: She wasn't sure if she wanted to divorce or not, but she knew that once she started the process it would get messy, so she consulted me to be sure she understood everything that this step would entail. Margaret came because she caught her husband cheating and was looking for help finding a lawyer and starting the divorce process. Sharon called me when mediation fell apart and she realized she was going to need some support to get through her divorce proceedings. And Natalie called just before she signed her final agreements, to guide her through the complex final steps of her divorce.
Women need help with their divorces at different stages of the process some women need help working through just a single issue that's particularly difficult, while other women meet with me weekly for months, even years to talk through not only the practical concerns but also the day-today emotional aspects of dealing with a marriage's end. My mission is to help my clients make rational and beneficial decisions at a vulnerable time. Decisions made during your divorce will affect the rest of your life. Learning to navigate your way through this process enables you to establish a new future and protect your health, lifestyle, and financial assets. When children are involved, the divorce process is even more complex and a good outcome more crucial.
Whether you have a lot of money or children and no matter how you choose to proceed legally whether you mediate, collaborate, or litigate the issues are always the same. The questions can feel overwhelming and endless, and even though questions lead to answers, answers lead to more questions. I'm here to guide you through that process.
My first task when I start to work with a new client is to get her history: What was the couple's courtship like? Their marriage? What qualities about her husband did she most/least admire? One of my jobs is to clear out the emotional wreckage and have the client take a good, hard look at the human being she is moving away from. Once she sees him more clearly, we are able to better navigate from there.
My next task is to discuss the legal aspects of what's in store. I take the client step-by-step, helping her to understand what the law requires and entitles her to. We discuss the finances, ownership rights, child support issues, custody issues, and what happens during the divorce procedure and after. We talk about how to choose a lawyer, how to deal with him or her on day-to-day matters, and how to be an active participant in the case. We discuss the timing of the divorce proceedings from beginning to end. My purpose is to make my client as comfortable as possible with the procedure, the vocabulary, and the format. Remember, surprise is a bad thing when it comes to divorce.
Lastly we deal with the finances: I help my client access and organize her records, bills, investments, monthly expenditures all financial matters.
Remember, I am not a lawyer; I am not a financial planner; I am not a therapist. I am a coach. I am a person who has been through the process and survived. In fact I did more than survive, I came out whole and I came out having learned a lot. In What Your Divorce Lawyer May Not Tell You, I've drawn from my personal experiences as well as those of my clients over the past years. Having this book in hand will empower you, prepare you, and save you time and money. You will know what to ask, what to expect, and what to demand. We'll get to the heart of the practical everyday issues you'll face as you prepare to end your marriage, such as health insurance, pension plan rights, and professional license evaluations, just to name a few. This book is a hands-on, practical, yet personal guide to the specific and thorny questions of a divorce, your immediate guide to the multitude of real-life issues you'll have to deal with. And please remember: Divorce laws vary from state to state. This book is intended to offer a practical understanding about the majority of issues that states address in a divorce dispute. Once you have a general grasp of the issues that may be in dispute in your case, you will have to consult a legal professional to evaluate how the law in your state applies.
Divorce is both a learning and challenging experience. It's a time when you will have to confront unpleasant things about yourself and those around you. It's a time that tests your strength, your commitments, and your emotional stability, but it's also a time to discover your capabilities. I have seen what women can do when they don't think f a divorce as a tragedy but as an opportunity. Divorce can be a learning experience that leads to reevaluating yourself. You will survive because everyone does. For me it was a time to regain my confidence and sense of self. It opened the door to a new mission in my life, leading me to develop DivorceSource. You, too, can take a lemon and make it into lemonade.
Copyright © 2009 by Margery Rubin and Sally Sampson