I grew up in Ohio and married one week before graduating from college. Three years later, I weathered my first divorce, losing everything in court in spite of solid legal representation. My home, my car, even my dog went to my ex. Painfully I learned that the legal system was not necessarily interested in my definitions of “justice” and “fairness”, and that trusting the system to take care of you can be perceived as naïve, a weakness to be exploited. Poorer but wiser, I moved to San Francisco where I worked as a theatre director and went back to school. After completing a master's degree, I headed to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film. Eventually, I married again.
My career moved forward, I was in love; life was good.
Then, suddenly, after ten years of marriage, I faced another divorce. This time, however, I was thirty-nine (forty-one by the time it was over) and determined not to repeat my previous mistakes. I did my research, gathered information, met with my lawyer, accountant and therapist regularly, and still lost my half of the community property in a community property state (California).
Part of the problem was that extreme stress and emotional abuse took a huge toll. At the time, information and resources for victims of domestic violence were almost nonexistent, so the domestic violence component of my divorce was basically ignored by everyone, my lawyer included. Furthermore, I never understood how to hire a divorce lawyer, or even how to tell a good one from a bad one. So I hired someone who did a friend's prenuptial. Her recommendation: he was really nice and didn't like to fight, which sounded good at the time, but was exactly the opposite of what I needed.
Once the process was underway, I found it difficult to obtain copies of all the necessary documents, remember conversations I'd had with my spouse (including all of his attendant threats and promises), and just get through the day. If I discussed something important with my therapist, I couldn't always remember to mention it to my lawyer, or I'd remember I needed to tell him something, but forget exactly what that was. After meetings with my lawyer, I would forget to pass on financial questions to my accountant, or emotional issues to my therapist. Bottom line: I couldn't get organized for a process I didn't understand, and I desperately needed to be organized. Not surprisingly, I lost nearly everything in a community property state.
I realized after the fact that I could have helped my lawyer mount a considerably more effective defense if I'd written down all financial information and subsequent meeting notes in a format I could reference easily. Unfortunately, much of the strategy and decision making were left up to me (by my lawyer), and I was in no emotional condition to recall the details I often needed to make informed choices.
Picking up the pieces wasn't easy, but life moved forward. I had no work, very little money, few friends. I lived in a state of suspended animation, and for a long time, my most coherent thought was: Thank God I'm not married to him anymore, and well, at least this time I kept my dog! I moved out of my house, and out of Los Angeles. I returned to directing. One day, I realized I was smiling again.
Over the years I frequently have been asked to advise friends and friends of friends in similar circumstances, as I result of my own catastrophic experience. I quickly realized that I felt passionate about helping women who were facing divorce. Using my own experience, and the stories of other women who have also been through torturous times, I gradually developed a set of guidelines that have become the backbone of The Divorce Planner.