Anyone who has divorced knows how long and difficult the process can be. From the decision to divorce, through the separation and judgment, and on to the new normal, the process is fraught with details, meetings, and compromises. Divorce rocks your world, and a late-in-life or gray divorce disrupts decades of expectations and plans. The key to a successful transition—in divorce and other shattering experiences—is finding your power.
Easier said than done? Perhaps. But it can be done. Many wise women have gone through the transition and set inspiring examples of transformation. Their examples show us the way to move through change with grace and strength, and with our eyes laser-focused on building a happier future.
My friend Janet is one example. When she was in her late 40s, her husband walked out and left her with two teenage boys, a handful of unexplained debt, and her own recent diagnosis of MS. It wasn’t easy shifting from her initial rage at the situation to acceptance and, eventually, a good life for herself. But she did it. How? Armed with friends, family, professional advisors, and a skill at making lists, she broke down what she needed to do into small, manageable steps. The smaller the step, the better. Here’s what helped her find her inner power and take the first baby steps towards her new life:
- She got help from her closest friends.
First, she reached out to her inner circle of friends. Sharing your reality can help you face the truth, and even your shame. Luckily for Janet, she had more than a few women ready to support her, including old college friends, other parents she’d met through her kids’ activities, and a circle of friends from her book club. “I was floored by the support they offered—not only from day one,” remembers Janet, “but for what seemed to me like the endless months that followed.” I believe women who have friends that are more than ‘pals who want to socialize’ are particularly fortunate. Our true friends can become our fiercest defenders, our most honest critics, and the people we can count on for a kind word or a strong hug. No matter how young or old you are, or how large or small your challenges may be, look around and treasure your circle of friends.
- She hired a (great) attorney.
And not just any attorney. She found a family law specialist with skill, experience, and strength. He helped her achieve a fair settlement, wrote up the judgment, and then went the extra mile (or two) to follow up with all the post-judgment details. That’s where the magic happens. For example, the marital settlement agreement stated that the house was to be sold and the proceeds used to equalize the financial settlement, but with her ex on the title, Janet needed his signature to move forward. The ex tried to nickel and dime her in the transfer of assets. Her attorney stepped in to enforce the judgment and facilitate the process. (I recently sent him a personal thank you for using his “super powers” to help Janet with the most finite details. He was amazing!) That level of dedication and support made a world of difference.
- She hired a financial advisor who specializes in divorce.
Yes, that’s me. (Though I was thrilled to learn that her attorney had made certain she was working with a good advisor… and a good therapist. He definitely gets it!) Together, we went through our financial checklist to be sure she was on her feet financially, taking care to break down each step into manageable, bite-sized pieces. I’ve been through my own divorce, and I know just how disempowering it can be. I also know how amazing it feels on the other side! An advisor who specializes in divorce can help you navigate the unique challenges of this transition—emotionally and financially—to get you back on your feet and moving forward.
- She tackled her cash flow.
Janet had been a stay-at-home mom for more than fifteen years, so to begin to earn an income was a major hurdle. We immediately looked at her cash flow to identify what bills needed to be paid in the first six months and the resources on hand to cover them. Next, we looked at where she might live after the house was sold and discussed rent versus buy, and how much rent or mortgage was prudent. Cash management is the foundation of all financial decisions—whether for a pack of lifesavers or for real estate purchases. Knowing what resources would be available long term helped her gain her confidence and feel less like the whims of her ex were dictating her life.
- She looked beyond today.
After a divorce, life starts anew. With any plan or journey, the starting point is precisely where you are today. Janet had a Gavron order, which meant that in a few years she would have to begin to earn a living. At the moment, however, her primary source of income would be spousal support, so she needed to insure that income via a life insurance policy on her ex. Together we looked at these and other important pieces of her financial puzzle, including updating her estate plan, deciding what kind of mortgage would be best, and investing her marital assets, as well as analyzing her income, protection, debt, and more. The millennials call all this holistic planning ‘adulting.’ After a divorce, gray or otherwise, ‘adulting’ starts anew with baby steps. Janet’s MS diagnosis required some specialized planning, so we made some assumptions about her health and her future. Step-by-step, the myriad details necessary to reestablish her financial future were addressed, and life went on.
A good two years after Janet’s divorce, she told me that she could remember the moment she began to feel confident and in control again. In her words, “I’d found my inner power that had been missing for years, and the moment I did, I could tell my kids could sense it too. Because when I’d found my power, they suddenly felt safe. That was the biggest payoff of all.”
If you are facing divorce, I urge you to take the first steps toward finding your inner power today. If it feels impossible or overwhelming, break it into smaller, manageable actions. One tiny action is to ask for help. Or tinier yet, decide you need help. You can build your new normal… step by step by step.