By Alison Bowen Chicago Tribune
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The co-authors who divorced the same man dedicated their book to ex-wives everywhere along with their ex-husband. They say the book covers everything from alimony to whether wine is a necessity.
When she got divorced, Holiday Miller had no idea where to even begin. Finances? Therapy? And what should she tell her two daughters?
She knew just one person who had been through it.
After a night of bubble bath and wine, she sent a message on Facebook to Valerie Shepherd, her husband's ex-wife. "You might possibly be the only person on the planet who could understand the hell I'm in right now," Miller wrote. "Would it be OK if I call you?"
Shepherd, who lived in Chicago before moving to Atlanta, looked on Facebook for the telltale sign: relationship status. Her ex-husband had taken down the glossy family photo and changed from "married" to "single."
"I was like, 'Oh, OK, I know what's going on here,'" Shepherd said.
And unbeknownst to Miller, Shepherd was months away from another divorce.
"I had been going through so much pain in that divorce," Shepherd said. "It went through my head, 'If I could save one person from the pain that I'm going through, then it'll all be worth it.'"
Beyond marrying the same man, they had much in common: Both were teachers, had joined the same sorority and were members of the Junior League.
And they both were collecting binders and files and notebooks filled with divorce documents.
"When I was going through my divorce, I Googled 'divorce planners,'" Shepherd said. A handful of results popped up. For "wedding planners"? Tens of thousands.
"We basically wrote the book we wish we would have had," she said.
Thus, their unique story, ex-wives of the same man becoming close friends, became "The Ex-Wives' Guide to Divorce: How to Navigate Everything from Heartache and Finances to Child Custody" (Skyhorse).
The authors dedicated the book to ex-wives along with their ex-husband ("You clearly have great taste in women") and cover everything from alimony to whether wine is a necessity.
"We're trying to help take away the stigma of divorce," Shepherd said. "Just because your relationship failed doesn't mean you failed as a human being."
Here are a few tips from topics they tackle:
Money. Although Shepherd and Miller caution that they are not financial planners, their book offers suggestions. First, if an attorney gives you a financial worksheet, fill it out quickly and completely. And set up a separate bank account. You don't want to be trapped by a spouse's control over money.
Opening a separate credit card in your name will help establish credit, another key to independence. Speaking of that, get a free credit report. Knowledge is power, they remind you.
Throughout the book, which maintains a girlfriend-to-girlfriend tone, Miller and Shepherd provide lists, such as documents to collect, tax returns, bank statements, real estate appraisals.
Other practical tips? Change all passwords, yes, even for your Delta SkyMiles. Get duplicate copies of any possible account, from season tickets to car titles.
Kids. Kids will remember the moment they're told of divorce for rest of their lives, so handle with care.
If possible, have the conversation with both spouses presenting a unified front. Have agreed-upon answers to questions like, "Where will we live?" And keep it short. This isn't the time when kids can take everything in.
Treat the relationship with your ex like a business partnership. If you suggest counseling, the other parent must sign off on it. And keep boundaries clear; your child should not feel like your therapist or your parent.
Once the transition is underway, help kids acknowledge celebrations and holidays for the other parent, for example birthday presents for the spouse.
"It is a terrible feeling for a kid to know it is dad's birthday, for example, but they are unable to get a present for dad," says Sheri Siegel, a psychologist who co-wrote this chapter.
The authors include a handy calendar with different custody possibilities: 50-50 (one they don't recommend), 60-40 and 70-30.
Emotional. "The best way to manage your emotions is to be aware of them," the authors write.
They stress to separate business, like legal tasks, from the personal, like sobbing with ice cream.
"When you're emotional, you're not able to make smart business decisions, and divorce is a financial transaction," Miller said.
Divorce is the death of a dream, they point out. So make your way through the stages of grief, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
And prioritize things that help, like friends. Even if a budget is tight, time with friends can be free. And both agree that wine is still a "need", just go cheap. They describe the different friends you'll need during this time: Fun Friend, Safe House Friend, Straight Shooter and so on.
"If it's somebody you wouldn't trade places with, don't take advice from them," Shepherd said.
Ultimately, they hope this reminds other future ex-wives that this, too, shall pass.
"The divorce doesn't have to define you," Miller said. "It is a defining moment in your life, but it is not the last chapter."