Introduction to Divorce Coaching
By Dr. Elizabeth Degi DuBois, PhD
I was one of the lucky ones. In the decade-plus that I’ve been researching divorce and domestic violence public policy, I’ve met hundreds of women who lack a support system to help shepherd them through their worst moments and into a New Normal.
That was not my story. I had family support that funded a decent lawyer, friends who figuratively opened their hearts and quite literally opened their homes to offer comfort and shelter, financially savvy associates who counseled me on staying afloat, divorced friends who were willing to lend spectacularly practical advice, and an online support community that provided solace, sisterhood, and a fair number of memes reminding each other that there would come a day when a Tinder date might yield more than a booty call.
Even embraced by this profound wealth of experts and supporting loved ones, there was still a missing key player who ultimately ended up being the X-Factor that helped keep me sane and focused on the long-term picture. Without her, my son’s life and my life would be markedly less stable and secure than the beautiful New Normal in which I find myself sipping hot tea and writing this blog post.
That X-Factor was my Divorce Coach. She was the one who gave me a clear picture of the road ahead—- a task she had to do over and over and over again because my brain was fried—- and kept me grounded in the present. She was the one who gave me a tough love wake-up call when I wanted to settle with nary a bank statement in hand, my desperation to be done fighting overpowering my long-term logic. My Coach breathed courage and strength and logical thinking into my life in moments when I was gasping to keep my head above water.
If you’re in the midst of divorce muck—- be it contemplating if you should separate from your spouse, actually in the process of litigating or mediating your divorce, or recovering from the existential and financial whiplash that accompanies divorce—- you can likely benefit from a Divorce Coach. Here’s why:
HOW A DIVORCE COACH CAN SAVE YOU MONEY
If you’re reading these words and thinking, “No, thankyouverymuch, I do not need yet another professional who’s going to take my time and my money,” hear me out. A Divorce Coach is different than your therapist, your financial planner, and your attorney. All of those folks are invaluable travel buddies on your divorce journey, but you’re likely bleeding money leaning on these professionals in ways they’re not best equipped to handle (Read: You’re paying them to ask questions they can’t answer).
Let’s play out a common scenario: Your ex does something low-grade heinous, like send you a barrage of text messages saying that your lawyer is just out for the money, and that you’re being an irresponsible baby for blowing marital money by not mediating things yourself. Hopped up on fear, you place an urgent call to your attorney’s office. HE’S TELLING ME WE SHOULDN’T USE ATTORNEYS! HE’S RIGHT, I CAN’T AFFORD THIS! Meanwhile, your attorney has the clock running for every second she’s on the phone with you, talking you down.
A ten-minute phone call to your lawyer’s office to get reassurance that you will be way worse off long-term if you go the DIY route just cost you somewhere in the range of $50-$70.
Using a different scenario, let’s say your soon-to-be-ex is introducing your daughter to a string of boyfriends. Your kiddo is barely comprehending all the changes in her life, and your ex is whirling potential step-daddies through her world with the speed of an episode of the Bachelor, and the indiscretion of an episode of MTV’s The Real World. Driven by genuine, well-placed concern, you spend an entire therapy session picking apart what to do about this.
That $20-$250 spent (depending on your insurance) with a therapist might help you sort out your frustration about the situation, but it doesn’t actually give you anything approximating useful guidance on what your legal and extrajudicial options are, and the best way to leverage your legal team to put a stop to the boyfriend-brigade.
In the “I’ll just call my lawyer” scenario, you’re seeking reassurance you could get from a Divorce Coach for way less. In the “I need to talk to my therapist” case, you’re seeking guidance and pragmatic how-to advice from someone trained to be a reflective impartial sounding board for unpacking your emotions. In both cases, you’re using your likely-strained financial resources in ways that aren’t efficient.
HOW A DIVORCE COACH CAN SAVE YOU TIME
In the above illustrations, you’re not only burning cash, but you’re also burning time. If your divorce is like most of my clients and research subjects I’ve worked with over the years, you are likely fielding calls from your lawyer on your lunch break, spending water-cooler time furiously texting your ex about who gets the lamp from the wedding registry, and unpacking boxes in the apartment you’ve rented while the litigation dust settles to determine who gets the marital home.
Yes, adding a Divorce Coach to your team adds another person you’re meeting with (either in-person, online or via phone), but it also streamlines how you use your team.
To give one common illustration of how a coach can save you time, think back to the last email your sent your lawyer. If you’re like many people, you may be sending your attorney emails with loads of extraneous details that don’t actually have much legally-relevant info. The time it takes for you to compose an opus for your lawyer about your ex’s shitty behavior is time spent on your part. Waiting to hear from your lawyer is mental energy being burned. Reading the email from your attorney to learn that your ex is indeed shitty, but not crossing any legal lines costs you more time, and another round of emails with your attorney demanding why, exactly, your concern doesn’t impact your case.
During your session with your Divorce Coach, you can sort through what info your attorney actually needs in order to answer your question, and understand the reasons it may or may not be relevant to your case. Better yet, you very likely might get an answer from your coach, thus alleviating the need for another email back and forth with your counsel.
HOW A DIVORCE COACH CAN IMPROVE THE OUTCOME OF YOUR CASE
Divorce Coaches are not lawyers, but they do have specialized training in what the divorce process looks like, and how your actions (or inactions) impact your case. Some of this is minutia that actually does matter to your case, but that your attorney might not mention because it’s not legal advice, and thus not their focus. For example, gaming out what to wear to Court may impact the way the Judge views you. You might think that dressing your best means a top-of-the-line suit and a Fendi purse, but strutting into Court looking like a million bucks when you’re asking for alimony might not help you.
Speaking to a more impactful aspect, Divorce Coaches can help keep your eye on the long-term. Divorce is mental death by a million logistical and emotional papercuts. There are SO. MANY. DECISIONS. to make along the way. Can I afford to keep the house? Can I move to a cheaper state? Do I move money from my IRA to pay for an attorney, or put it on a credit card? Can I donate his grandmother’s china to Goodwill, because, damnit, I know it’s going to end up at his mistress’s house if he keeps it, and I will not stand for that bullshit!!
In very few instances do you need an attorney to help you walk through these choices. However, many, many, many people lean on their lawyers for these hybrid legal/emotional/financial/logistical mental gymnastics. Your lawyer can speak to the legal implications of each choice, but they are not trained— and likely not interested— in helping you decide if you are going to regret selling your engagement ring 20 years from now when your son is thinking of proposing to his hypothetical future girlfriend.
A Divorce Coach can help you sort through each of these choices, game out the interplay of your legal case and your logistical quandaries (ie: if you’re likely going to get child support in the ballpark of $500-$1200, how do you figure out if you can keep the house) and help keep you grounded in the big picture: Yes, you may be able to afford the house so you can keep the kids “stable”, but it will be at the expense of their college fund. To keep rolling with this example, a coach can help you play out what ‘stability’ for your kids really means to you, and what you value more. If you want to stay in the marital home but it means stopping college fund contributions, your coach can help you get to the root of what you want long term for yourself, and your kids.
Surviving divorce is, in and of itself, a tall order. Moving through the process in a way that sets you up to thrive on the other side can seem like an impossible dream. Both of these things are much, much easier if you walk the path with someone who knows the challenges you’re likely to encounter along the way. A Divorce Coach will continually guide you back to your core values and long-term goals, helping you make choices that serve you in your quest for building an ideal future, not just getting to the other side of a settlement agreement.
If you’re ready to level-up your life and your litigation, get thee to a Divorce Coach!