Q&A: Divorce Expert, Jacqueline Newman

You have decades of working with couples considering and getting divorced.  What are the most common signs a marriage is in trouble?

When people stop communicating.   While it may feel like a dream come true that you no longer have to listen to him drone on about his boring day, the fact that he is no longer communicating with you and telling you about his day is a good sign that he is withdrawing and a sign the marriage may be in trouble.

When irritation levels skyrocket – Let’s face it, everyone gets annoyed with their spouse.  It is totally normal (and would mean that you are not living in reality if you did not).   However, when your spouse is annoyed that you are breathing the same air that he is – and when the special “power” you use to have to bring him back to a good place no longer works – you may be heading for divorce.

When he suddenly has an interest in everything but you -  What I mean is that he all of a sudden has a new bunch of friends that go out a lot and you are never invited.  He takes up hobbies that he knows you would never do (sky diving when you are scared of heights).   If he starts going on trips “alone” – I would begin to question.

What are the first things people want to know the first time they talk with a divorce attorney?

How much it will cost and how long it will take.   While these are totally valid questions (I would ask the same), it is nearly impossible to answer unless the client can tell me how long it will take to get their spouse to agree to all of their demands.

What most surprises people when you begin telling them about the divorce process?

People are most surprised when they learn that the fact that their spouse cheated is practically irrelevant in a divorce case.  Most people believe the fact that their ex is caught cheating with the wife’s sister in their marital bedroom would matter to a court, but it is a hard pill to swallow when they realize that it just doesn’t.

One of the biggest challenges people have about divorce is what to do with the kids.  How do children change the divorce picture?

A divorce is a whole different game when there are children involved.   Beyond it often being much more emotionally difficult because you now have the added guilt and responsibility of dealing with the notion of breaking up the home for their children, there are now the added issues of figuring out the custody agreements and the financial issues relating to the children.

Your book Soon-to-be EX: A Guide to Your Perfect Divorce and Relaunch goes beyond the divorce process to talk about life after divorce.  Why do you think it's so important to include that part of the process for people considering divorce?

Because I want people to realize that there is life after divorce.   While it is incredibly sad and upsetting that their marriages did not work out, a divorce can be seen as an opening for them to be able to find healthier and better relationships.

Are you an optimist or a pessimist when it comes to marriage?

I am ultimately an optimist, but probably more of a realist.   Doing what I do gives me a good perspective on what is real and what is not.  While I am still annoyed that my husband does not put the dishes in the dishwasher, I have enough perspective knowing what goes on in other marriages that it does not push me over the edge (although I never understand why not –since the sink and dishwasher are right next to each other!)

You're a partner in a 5th Avenue Manhattan law practice with clients who have big bank accounts and complex divorce settlements.  Are their divorces much different from everyone else, or are there some universal truths when it comes to marriage and ending marriage?

There are definitely universal truths when it comes to marriage and divorce.  No       matter how much money is in your bank account, you still have the same hurt feelings when a spouse cheats on you.  Or you still cry the same tears when you have to look in your child’s face and tell them that Mommy and Daddy are not going to live together anymore.  You may be saying it in a 5th Avenue Penthouse apartment, but you are still dealing with the same grief.

Your book Soon-to-be EX: A Guide to Your Perfect Divorce and Relaunch is written for women and you have a men's version in the works.  What's the difference in advice between spouses?

The basics are the same, but the psychological strategy can be different.   The fact is – most men and women are wired differently and part of my job as a divorce attorney is to be able to read my clients and provide different types of support depending on what their needs are.   While society is changing, more often than not, men are still the primary breadwinners in a family and women are the main caretakers of the children.  So, when a man walks into my office, he is very concerned about money but also concerned that he is on weak ground when it comes to custody.  So, my advice is more focused on how to strengthen his custodial positions and also how to prepare him for the financial situation.   Meanwhile, when I am advising women, I am focusing on how to strengthen and educate them on the financial front and prepare them for the parenting changes that are about to take place.

Celebrity divorces make big news--from who gets the kids to who gets the houses.  What makes them so interesting to people, and what lessons can people learn from the headlines when it comes to their own marriages?

People like when they can relate to celebrities who often feel like they are not even real people (US Magazine has an actual section called “People Like Us” – See celebrities pump their own gas).   So, when a celebrity is having marital issues, the general public is interested.  People may feel good knowing that celebrity lives are not perfect or maybe they just enjoy watching car crashes.  However, what can be learned by many celebrities divorces is that they often do their best to settle cases quickly (they have the additional pressures of keeping the press out of their divorce) and often they will give good examples of how to co-parent (at least in front of the cameras).

Do you have a final piece of free advice for people in our audience who may be considering whether to get divorced?

Get a good attorney!   All joking aside, they need to first figure out whether they want to divorce.  It is the first question I ask clients – because unless you are 100% sure, do not do it.  Try marriage counseling or something before hiring a divorce attorney.  Divorce is a tough process, from an emotional and financial standpoint, and you want to make sure you are making the right decision before moving forward.

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