A Roundtable Discussion
MILWAUKEE MAGAZINE sat down with family law attorney Lindsey Burghardt, therapist and holistic coach Sue Bruckner and financial adviser Debra Melvin to discuss ways to make the divorce process more manageable.
MM: After couples have agreed to divorce, how should they begin the process?
Burghardt: If a couple decides they want to divorce, as in they are both in agreement, then one or both of them would retain an attorney and start the action in court, filing the initial pleadings. Not to say that people can’t file their own divorces, but that’s typically the first step. A lot of times people will want to meet with an attorney, even before they’ve actually made the decision. It’s just more to familiarize themselves with the process and what it’s going to entail, so their decision to divorce can be an educated one.
Bruckner: Many people go the mediation route or will at least attempt the mediation route. I’m a therapist, and I’m also moving into the coaching world, so I’m also going to add for divorcing couples: Where’s your therapy? Is there couples counseling ahead of time? What does the support network that you are going to be setting up look like?”
MM: What are some qualities to look for in a divorce attorney?
Melvin: I’d say one skill that I think is really important is listening to what the client really wants, but then actually encouraging your client to fight for what might really be theirs.
Bruckner: If there are kids involved, the attorney should have a clear understanding of what’s in the best interest for the kids. Also, if you are going through the divorce process, you’re going to want empathy. You’re going to want someone who can really listen to you without judgment and be very objective.
Burghardt: Being available, being realistic, being responsive. A divorce is very personal, very emotional. I always say to my clients that I’m their advocate, but it’s not personal to me, and so therefore, I can often bring an outsider perspective to things, to see the big picture, and not necessarily get weighed down in the more emotional pieces. That’s not to say that I don’t spend a lot of time talking to my clients about emotional things and trying to help them with that process, but when it comes down to decision making, my advice can come from a place of professionalism and not from a personal place.
MM: How can a financial adviser help couples who are getting divorced?
Melvin: My job in the whole divorce process is not really to tell my clients what they should or shouldn’t do. It’s really to make sure that they understand how each settlement option affects their long-term financial future. For example, I often work with the woman in the divorce. There might be a situation where she can afford to keep the family home, but that might be at the expense of giving up too many retirement assets. And that might work for her, but that might mean her net worth at retirement is $1 million and her ex-husband’s is $2 million. Sometimes seeing that on paper just helps her to make the right, educated decision.
Burghardt: I think that’s a really important thing for people to understand because of the complexity of the divorce process. Emotions are running high and people are really focused on the now. Keeping the marital home is an excellent example, because people think, “I want to stay here. The kids, this is their house. I want to keep this house.” But what is that going to mean down the line?
MM: Why is it important that those who are going through a divorce practice self-care, and how can having a strong support network help make the process more bearable?
Bruckner: The way I view self-care is that it comes from a holistic approach: mind, body and spirit. We can probably rattle off a bunch of things we can do for the body, but that’s not so easy when you’re talking about self-care for the spirit. If that’s left out, someone is going to stay stuck in long-term patterns and in the grief that comes with divorce. Self-care helps someone move forward. Practicing self-compassion and embracing gratitude and befriending one’s inner critic, are all tools that can help during and after the divorce process.
Your support team is obviously going to include your helping professionals, but it is also the tribe of people who have great empathy for what you’re going through. You want to pick the people who can empathize and not judge you, or who are not there to give you advice, but are there to be a shoulder to lean on.
Burghardt: That’s an excellent point, because everybody has a cousin or a coworker, or someone they know who’s got a horror story about divorce. I don’t think anyone comes out of a divorce and feels like they won every little battle along the way or that everything is better now. But the reality is that you have to get to a place where you feel as though you’ve compromised, particularly when there are children.
Melvin: I’m often dealing with situations where women want to give their children the world because they’re going through the divorce. You might want to pay for college for all four of your children, but maybe that doesn’t work with your financial plan anymore. We have to have conversations about why it’s so important to take care of yourself, too.
Becoming Your Best After Divorce
DIVORCE LEAVES ITS MARK – mental, financial and even physical. Everyone involved feels the difficulty of the legal and emotional turmoil, and according to Dr. Andrew Campbell, a facial plastic surgeon at Quintessa Aesthetic Center, that dark experience manifests physically as well as mentally.
“Divorce can be the most stressful thing a person has ever gone through,” he says. “Many patients come to me saying they don’t look the same as before. Stress can literally be seen on their faces.”
Stress affects your immune system and your skin and even raises your cortisol levels, which contribute to the physical effects of aging. Campbell has heard many patients say the face they see in the mirror doesn’t match how they feel. Quintessa offers facial rejuvenation, nonsurgical and surgical options, hair restoration, laser skin resurfacing and other alternatives that can help with the physical effects that a stressful divorce can cause.
Dr. Daniel Butz, another plastic surgeon with Quintessa, sees divorced patients come in for other reasons as well. His divorced patients will sometimes say that they’ve always wanted to have a procedure such as muscle-toning, coolsculpting or a tummy tuck done, but their former spouse objected.
“Now they feel more liberated to do what they really want,” he said.
Both doctors see their work restoring confidence in their patients, and that goes with them when they leave the office.
“It’s not just physical – it’s a psychological transformation,” Campbell said. “People leave with a spring in their step.”