Divorce Advice From Real People Who Made It Through

By Danielle Braff
Chicago Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Jackie Pilossoph is the creator of “Divorced Girl Smiling”, a divorce support website. She is also the founder of “Divorce Concierge Group” which helps with everything from finding health insurance to selecting a real estate agent, to finding a new school for the kids.

Chicago Tribune

When you’re getting married, you usually have months to plan, along with a partner and plenty of wedding magazines to help.

But divorce is a lonely place, with room for one plus an attorney who charges per minute. So we rounded up divorce advice from real people who have been there, done that, and made it through to the other side, better than ever.

Here’s some advice that your lawyer may not have told you.

Document everything: If you need to go to court to seek out any damages or restitution, it’s essential to provide backup to support the case, said Sheri Silver, a New York-based blogger. Silver suggested saving all emails and saving all bills. “It couldn’t be easier these days to keep a file on your computer that is designated for this, and the earlier you get into the habit of doing it, the better off you’ll be in the event that you have to produce any evidence of some kind,” Silver said.

Get financial disclosures: You’ll need this as early as possible to make the divorce go quickly and smoothly, Silver said. While you may be tempted to do this yourself, hand control of it over to your lawyer because it removes you from the stress and trauma of the proceedings, Silver said. “Doing it yourself is not always productive,” she said.

Find a therapist: “The most important lesson I learned from going through my divorce is that divorce is 45 percent emotions, 45 percent numbers and 10 percent legal,” said Sandy Arons, founder of Arons & Associates, a Tennessee-based company that helps clients get financially smart divorces. “My therapist was essential to manage the emotional roller coaster.” While friends and family were helpful, Arons said that having an objective third person provided clarity.

Give a price to everything: Since divorce is a numbers game, Arons spent time figuring out the value of her house, the Blue Book value for the cars, the amount of mortgage left on her home, the bank accounts, the amount left in their retirement accounts and student loans, and more. “Gathering these numbers for all your assets and debts is necessary, so your attorney can give you meaningful legal advice,” Arons said. And since she did her own research and gathering, she avoided the very expensive formal discovery process, felt more confident and was able to have productive and efficient conversations with her attorney.

Think before getting an attorney: There are some divorces that aren’t going to end up in litigation, said Liza Feiler, founder of Divorce Concierge Group, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that helps newly divorced people navigate their way to independence. “When you’re finding an attorney, you need to figure out early on if you’re going to end up litigating, and if you are, you need to find an attorney who has a fantastic reputation winning their cases in litigation, which is different than doing something that’s more cut and dry,” Feiler said. “So first, you really need to figure out how this all is going to play out.”

Don’t make a rash decision: It’s important not to make decisions based on emotions, said Jackie Pilossoph, creator of Divorced Girl Smiling, a divorce support website, and a freelance columnist for Chicago Tribune Media Group. “When you make an impulsive decision, you suffer the consequences of saying or doing something you might not have done had you given it more thought,” said Pilossoph, who writes the weekly advice and dating column “Love Essentially.”

The consequences could play out in the courtroom if you send an email in the heat of the moment and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse forwards the angry email to his or her lawyer who routes it to the judge, who decides that you’re unfit to parent your children. Instead of making that impulsive decision, Pilossoph suggested venting to friends or family, exercising, meditating or journaling.

Understand the fine print: “When I got divorced, I did not know what I was doing legally because I had never heard any of the terms. I trusted my attorney and did what he said instead of empowering myself, learning the terminology and making a decision based on his advice and my own knowledge,” Pilossoph said. The result: You could sign something unknowingly that could make your soon-to-be-ex-spouse upset, which could make the divorce more unpleasant than it needs to be, she said. Your divorce attorney is trying to get you the best outcome but doesn’t necessarily know the private agreements made between you. “I have a master’s degree, but I don’t have an understanding of the law,” Pilossoph said, suggesting that you ask your attorney plenty of questions before signing anything. Ask him what everything means in common terms and what it will mean for you.

Engage in good coping mechanisms: When you go through a divorce, you aren’t you. “You’re a different personality: emotional, frightened, depressed, short-tempered,” Pilossoph said. While a glass or five of wine may look tempting at this time, you should avoid alcohol until you go back to being you, because you need to stay away from this and other things that could add to your depression, Pilossoph said, adding that when people are going through a divorce, they’re vulnerable to addiction.

Better coping mechanisms would include therapy, exercise, a new hobby or anything that would benefit you in a positive way. Avoid jumping into a new relationship right away, drugs, alcohol and giving up on life, Pilossoph said.

Hold it in: As much as you’re hurting, your kids are hurting just as much or worse, Pilossoph said. “They shouldn’t be your therapist,” she said. “Talk about it in front of your girlfriend, not in front of your kids.”

Stay on speaking terms: When you have children, you still need to have a partnership with your spouse; it just needs to be a different type of relationship, Feiler said. “You have to figure out how to communicate and have a working relationship,” she said.

Outsource: There are businesses out there that make the transition smoother, beyond your attorney, that help you figure out what steps to take, said Feiler, who started one of these companies herself after her own divorce. “I realized how much in need I was, and I didn’t want people to feel as lost as I was,” she said. If your spouse was the person who handled the bills, the paperwork and the organizing of your daily schedule, then find an assistant or even a local college student who can help with this to make the transition smoother until you get back on your feet, Feiler said.

Her company, Divorce Concierge Group, helps with everything from finding health insurance to selecting a real estate agent, an accountant, a new school for the kids and more. “When I created this four years ago, there was nothing like this out there, but in the last four to five years, they’ve become a little more available,” Feiler said. You can see if there’s one in your area simply by Googling your state and “divorce concierge” or asking your attorney if he or she knows of anyone who can help.

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