Recently, Christopher Cameron of Luxury Listings Magazine asked SAS why divorce might be different for women living on Manhattan’s Upper East- Side. We welcomed the opportunity to respond briefly to his question. But the nature of the question left us wanting to share more.
Divorce is horrible, and divorce for women, no matter the income or geographical locale, has its unique gender, racial and cultural trials and stigmas. But for SAS Co-Founder Kimberly Mishkin, who was working at a prestigious UES School while trying to leave an abusive marriage, the discovery of the darker side of privilege came as a surprise.
It started the night she walked into the police station, not far from her school, to file a report against her husband. After completing a full day’s work, Kim was dressed appropriately for her job as an administrator in education: she was in a suit and wearing heels. However, “I felt like they didn’t know what to do with me,” says Kim, when she describes that evening. “They acted like I was coming to complain about a silly tiff with my husband. They mimicked faces of sympathy. I had to convince them that this was a real complaint. That I really needed help. I walked out of the station that night with a brochure on domestic violence and not much more.”
Kim’s experience, as she faced the reality that she must save herself, was that there was no divorce support for women like her.
Coming to terms with the fact that she must divorce, Kim was facing a multitude of decisions, from “Where am I going to live?” to “Where am I going to get the money to pay for my divorce?” Because she was leaving an abusive marriage, Kim needed answers related to her immediate survival as well: “How can I be safe from my ex?” “How do I get a restraining order?” Yet, what she discovered as she began the painful process of learning, was that for someone perceived as having income, there were very few places for her to turn. She had to rely heavily on friends, who eventually tired of her endless story, until ultimately, she came to rely on herself to navigate all that was before her.
There came that day when I had to leave in a hurry. Things had taken a turn for the worse, and it became clear I was no longer safe. I had to do two things immediately: pack some clothes before he came home, and get a restraining order.
A good friend came with me to the apartment, and she brought contractor bags. We quickly tossed some clothes and shoes into the black trash bags and carried them to her car. I remember going back in to grab a sauce pan . . . why I don’t know, I just wasn’t thinking clearly. From there we went straight to the courthouse. I had no idea what to do then, or next. When I asked the officer at the desk in the courthouse, he suggested I visit a nearby organization that worked with abused women.
I went there, and the organization offered me food vouchers . . . but I didn’t really need food vouchers. I had a good job. They offered to put me up in a shelter. . . but I had many wonderful friends who were happy to give me their couch for the night. While I will always be grateful to the women I met that day for their warmth and empathy, it soon became clear they were unable to help me.
What I needed was information and help understanding the entire, crazy divorce process: I needed to secure an order of protection first, and then to figure out how to press criminal charges. I needed an introduction to a good divorce attorney. I needed someone to help me figure out my finances . . . I had let him handle our money, and ugh, big mistake! This is to say nothing about the obvious fact that throughout all of this I was breaking down. I was an emotional train wreck. Who could help me? Who would want to?
Alone in that space, I was in tears for months.
We knew there had to be a better way. This is why SAS exists today.
We’ve put a lot of thought into what divorce support for women should look like. As women who have survived our own divorce stories, and as educators and coaches who have gone on to work with many wise women since, we feel an urgency to share our message with everybody:
There is no sugar coating it. Divorce is unbelievably hard and many people you meet will not understand what you are going through. But we want you to know that you can get through this, that there is a process, and that by taking the right steps, you can and will feel in greater control of your life.
Why should you muddle through it alone, we ask, when women, who have come before you, have their hard-won wisdom to share?
We know not everyone can afford our services, which is why we offer free 45-minute consultations to any woman who calls or writes us. So that regardless of whether you engage with us further, or not, after taking that brave step of connecting with us, you will have a new piece of information or an action step that will make you feel less isolated and less alone. Walking out of that police station that night, Kim had never felt so lonely in her whole life. Now, at SAS, there is a kinder, less painful way to learn about the process and to move on with your life.