Last week we saw how women on the C-Suite are at a higher risk of divorce. And how it’s vitally important as a CEO to establish a vision: this is as true in divorce as it is at work. Your vision will help you build momentum in your divorce and keep going when it gets tough. But putting that vision into practice? That’s where the Chief Operating Officer comes in. It’s time to be the COO of your divorce.
Hone your divorce strategy
Let’s be clear. You need a divorce strategy. Without a strategy you’ll find yourself in reactive mode. You’ll be firefighting all the time: dealing with letters from your soon-to-be-ex’s solicitor, providing last minute figures to your own legal team. A strategy gives you purpose and direction.
Does your strategy have to be perfect? No. Simple and flexible is best. It’s essential to know what needs to happen first, and what needs to wait. It’s important to be clear on your values so you know where to hold firm, and what you can let go. But done is better than perfect. Keeping it simple means you can adapt your plan as needed. And most divorces are unpredictable! Who knows how your soon-to-be-ex will respond? The ability to be agile is key.
So what do you need to cover in your divorce strategy? It all starts with your values, and having a picture of the sort of person you want to be during and after divorce. The details of whether it’s this house or another one are surface level compared with your values. Knowing you can stay strong to what’s important and who you want to be is everything.
But we’re in operations mode now. And it is important to consider all the implications of divorce for your life. Think about:
- Career: what do you want this to look like after divorce? Do you want or need to make changes to your working lifestyle? Can you get the ball rolling on these now?
- Finances: what are your financial needs going forward? If you and your soon-to-be-ex can’t agree, the court system is there to help you reach a fair settlement. You will both need to provide full financial disclosure, so it’s important to start getting organised with your finances now.
- Housing: what do you want and need from your housing?
- Children: if you have children, how will you parent them between you? The arrangements for children will obviously impact on your financial and housing decisions too.
Build your team
No COO manages the strategic implementation by herself. And neither should you. It’s particularly important to get a team around you if finances are complicated, or your ex-spouse is high conflict.
Once you have your divorce strategy in place, you can build a trusted team to make it happen. Who do you need in your team? That will depend on your circumstances, but it’s likely to include:
- A divorce coach: a coach, like me, can help you take the long view and get your strategy in place before you contact a solicitor. This makes it much more likely you’ll choose the right team for you
- Financial advice: if your financial situation is complicated, particularly if it involves assets overseas, it is worth getting specialist financial advice
- A legal team: you don’t want to be self-representing from the C-Suite!
- Emotional support: whether it’s via a therapist, your family, friends, or a mix of all three, it’s important to have people around you to support you
- Support for your children: divorce is a huge change in your children’s lives as well as your own. Consider how you can support them, either yourself and/or with therapists.
How do you find the right people? Consider it a recruitment exercise. You are looking for people who are excellent in their field, of course. But you also need to be able to build a strong, honest relationship with you. Do you trust them? Have they handled cases like yours before? Will they listen to you, and be prepared to speak up if plans need to change?
Do your due diligence to get the people in place who are right for you.
Reaching agreement around finances and/or children shouldn’t be a battle. It shouldn’t be about fighting to get the best deal. But, all too often in divorce, it descends into point-scoring.
So, from the outset, be clear on what you want and need. Centre yourself and your children, not your ex-spouse. If that means they get more than their ‘fair’ share because you were the major breadwinner, let it go. It’s not about them any more. It’s about you and your future life. And if you’ve got what you want and need – great.
This is where it’s important to have the right professionals around you. Advice and expertise is very helpful; derailing you and directing you towards unnecessary conflict is not. Select your legal and financial team with care. When you’re clear on what you want and need they can advise you accordingly. And you won’t be distracted by unnecessary battles.
You’re a human, not a machine
Should you keep your divorce and work life separate? Yes, as far as possible. But divorce is messy: it’s emotional, it doesn’t happen solely on your timescales and you simply can’t delegate all of it. So you have to work with the situation you have.
Let colleagues know that this is an additional burden right now. Let them know it might affect both your availability and your mood sometimes. But as a leader you have a plan in place to take care of both your divorce and yourself. Don’t invite questions, but do be open enough that your people feel able to trust that you are handling the situation with integrity.
Need a trusted adviser?
Divorce is a lonely business. Even if you have the best legal team available. Because your solicitor isn’t there to support you through the process, simply to get the process done, according to your direction.
But what if you don’t know what you want? What if you feel like it’s all falling apart? And you will feel like that sometimes, because you’re human.
When that happens you need someone to be there. To talk you down, or lift you up. To help you see the wood for the trees. To help you navigate your divorce, your way. And that’s what I’m here for. I have a number of 1:1 services that mean I can be there for you when you need me. Find the support you need here.
Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is the author of the Amazon best-selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. Emma is also the host of The Six Minute Divorce Podcast. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com