If it’s hazardous to make big decisions during the emotional roller coaster of divorce, what’s the answer?
Aren’t some decisions forced on us at this very vulnerable time? Indeed, they are. Fortunately, there are experts whose calling is to help us make those decisions and get through the crisis intact.
An attorney is often the first phone call for people facing a divorce, and rightly so. But the lawyer’s job is limited to completing the divorce under the best conditions possible for the client. Even the best lawyer can’t address the many other issues that a breakup involves. Mark Baer, an attorney in Pasadena, California, who works mainly in family law, sees this dilemma up close.
“We might be able to listen to the clients and be empathic to them,” Baer said. “But where is our training in dealing with emotions? There is none.” The same could be said regarding the financial, credit, career, and relationship aspects of a breakup.
That’s where other experts can play a vital role. As I’ve mentioned, I interact regularly with a network of professionals from various disciplines: attorneys, mediators, therapists, child psychologists, financial advisors, and credit experts. Their services complement each other, and help their clients emerge from divorce with the least amount of damage. These professionals can act as a buffer, protecting clients from their own worst impulses in times of emotional distress.
The key is to seek help proactively — before the horse is out of the barn, as it were. In my field, I’ve been privileged to help many clients navigate the real estate maze successfully. But I could have helped many more if they had come to me earlier in the process — before making those critical decisions. The other professionals I work with would undoubtedly say the same thing.
Doug Minor is a credit expert based in Sherman Oaks, California, who helps consumers repair their credit; he also testifies frequently as an expert witness. Many of his clients are people in the midst of divorce — or their attorneys, in cases that go to trial. He’s well acquainted with the human tendency to act impulsively out of fear, and he often has to help clients pick up the pieces afterward. Here’s how he describes the ones who come to him after making a mess of things.
“They’re a little bit anxious and fearful, and they read things online — and then they start doing whatever they read,” said Minor. “It’s a fear-based situation but it manifests itself in a hodgepodge of fixes.”
In repairing credit damage, Minor points out, it’s important not just to do the right things — but to do them in the right sequence. He often finds himself repairing damage that clients have done to themselves by acting impulsively without good advice.
Loan underwriter Denise Fontyn sees a similar dynamic with people who are seeking financing in the context of a divorce. If she can get to them before they make the big decisions, her chances of helping them are much better. When ex-partners are fighting, looking at the hard numbers can bring a certain calm.
“The computation of what their options are brings the tension down,” Fontyn said. “They’re realizing that it’s not worth fighting over. The guy that wants to stay and buy his wife out, when he realizes he can’t afford the mortgage payments, he stops pushing for that option. Or, when they realize that there’s no equity, ‘What are we fighting over the house for? It’s upside down $150,000! You want it? Here you go, you can have it!’”
At such times, hearing commonsense advice from an objective source is invaluable. Many divorcing spouses would welcome the presence of a personal counselor just to help them get through the process.
As it happens, such people exist; they’re called divorce coaches. Along with her practice as a marriage and family therapist, Joyce Tessier specializes as a collaborative divorce and mediation coach in Orange County, California. She describes that role in The Emotional Divorce. The primary function of coaching is to create a context in which life and performance enhancement may take place. Coaching assumes that the client is already functioning and is capable of taking directed action to accomplish what they perceive as success. Coaching works in the gap between the present and the post-divorce future. In coaching, history is approached only as the map that brought the client to the present.
Throughout the process, a coach will assist the client to foster a sense of control; defuse their fear of the separation/divorce process; structure information gathering; help them to organize their basic living tasks during this time of confusion and emotional upheaval.
With such help, the financial and logistical challenges of divorce become more manageable. You can avoid the trap of making impulsive decisions based on emotions that are out of control. Knowing that your decision-making capacity is not at its best can actually lead to a sense of relief: you realize that you don’t have to go it alone, and so can set about getting the help you need.
Excerpt from The House Matters in Divorce by Laurel Starks, Unhooked Books.