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Divorce always has it's share of surprises and I wish someone would have given me the advice to expect them and keep my eyes wide open. I think the most important attitude I adopted in my divorce was to work toward complete independence. No, not just an attitude but a mantra. Keep that mantra thriving especially in the depths of despair. Make posters that say so and post them all over your house if you have to. Your kids will think you nuts, but remind them it's a worthwhile choice to make if they ever feel on the verge of going crazy! I really do think Ivana Trump had the right message, the best revenge is to succeed.

My ex moved out, took half the cash and and closed every account from which I could get any cash. I had no attorney, no job, no support arrangement, almost no cash. I had two kids ages 1 1/2 and 3. I had a big old turn of the century house which needed some major infrastructure updating and maintenance. I hadn't worked for several years and to make a long story short wasn't very marketable. I applied for a number of credit cards just to try to get temporary financial access, but could only obtain cards with 3 or 4K limits. Finally I sent one in and just reported our previous household income and got a 17,000 credit line. Oh god, I was a liar and a cheat! How could I live with myself? I finally realized it wasn't illegitimate. We weren't even legally separated! I ended up not needing to depend on it but it was an emotional security blanket. I made a very conscious decision to be as frugal as I could and not used the card unless absolutely necessary. I decided to quit judging myself so harshly.

One of the most important things I did was shop for an attorney who was going to go to bat for me if I needed it. I shop for attorneys the way I shop for doctors. If I need surgery I call my obstetrician and ask "If somebody has to cut you open, who would you want to do it? Top 3 choices?" I asked attorneys that I knew (or ask friends if they know any attorneys) and ask the attorney who they would use if they were going through a divorce. Interview the attorney. But before you do, decide what is most important to you and what you hope to accomplish. If you don't know, talk with your closest friends and family about what kinds of things you really need to consider. Don't have your attorney do anything for you that you can do for yourself. And by the way, all those things that you do for yourself builds your confidence and reminds you just how competent you are. Be very clear with the attorney that he or she doesn't have carte blanche license to just do whatever needs to be done. You drive your attorney. You are paying her. You are the consumer and she is providing a service. What matters? Be clear about your goals but be sure to ask her opinions about things you may be missing or haven't thought about. Whatever you do, don't use your attorney as a therapist or counselor about "what should I do?" Go to your friends and confidants with those questions, sort through it and then go back to your attorney and let her know your direction or goal.

Again, with an attorney, whatever footwork you can do without the attorney do yourself. Legal fees are herendous and can completely break you if you are not in charge of your attorneys activity on your case. Down to writing letters! Making phone calls! Research! Only have your attorney write a letter if your doing so would be detrimental. You would not believe how fast legal fees add up at anywhere from $140 to megabucks an hour for a well seasoned domestic affairs attorney. Take the financial control of your attorney very seriously.

We had two properties, one a multi-unit and the other our primary dwelling. I decided I wanted our primary residence for all the wrong reasons but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The equity on the income property was quite large. The primary dwelling had little. My mortgage payment seemed huge and he had no mortgage payment due to renters and had addtional cash flow to boot with the additional rental income. It turned out to be my good fortune, because I was entitled to a property distribution from the imbalance in equities and received a large cash settlement that allowed me to start investing (and didn't have all the headaches of rentals, repairs, improvements, bad renters, yadda, yadda). Withholding the cash settlement was interest free for 2 years to him, but accrued 9% thereafter and had to be paid by year 4 post divorce. After year 2 the reality of the interest prompted a speedy refinance, and a big chunk of dough that I could use to make long term repairs and maintenance on my home and invest. When you have extra cash? Pay extra on your mortgage principal to insure an earlier payoff of the loan. With most mortgage holders there isn't a pre payment penalty.

Don't get me wrong! I don't mean take a big chunk of money and pay down your mortgage. My personal opinion is to invest and develop a portfolio to meet your short and long term goals. I do however mean that if you can afford to make one extra house payment per year you can pay off your home many years earlier than the full term of your mortgage. Sorry, I don't know how to figure all that out, but I'm sure you can find answers to those Foolish questions here.

As far as vocation goes? Do anything you can to network with anyone who will listen. Don't be timid. Figure out what you do well and sell it, sell it, sell it to anyone who will listen. ANYONE! You never know when someone sees something that says 'you are a fit". No one can sell you better than you and if you do a door will open. Count on it all the way to the bank (or at least to the next electric bill or the water bill).

Deciding my priorities has been my biggest focus. That takes time during and after a divorce for most. It's really a process. It's been almost 4 years since my divorce and I'm finally developing a very clear sense and direction and confidence about what I want my independence to be about. What I really want for me. For me alone and for me as a mother and parent of two great kids. Those priorities are inextricably intertwined and at the same time very separate. What do I want out of life just for me alone and for me and the kids? And what do I need to do to plan for that to make it a reality? I'm just starting to put together a plan of action which began about a year ago.

The most important focus has been to be truly self-reliant financially. To be dependent on my ex sets me up for failure and loss or lack of control. I look to any contribution he makes as pure gravy. I'm not there yet, but it's my goal. How great could it be if I could use child support to fund my monthly investment expense because my own financial stability provided for everything I could ever hope to give them? If only I could dump $1000 into Nokia or APCC as a drip! (no idea if they do drip accounts but you get the idea).

Whatever else you do, get excited about loving your life and your complete independence. And what better community to learn how to be self-supporting than this wonderful Foolish place. A plan for saving money and investing in the future? That's the easy part. You can find that here at the Fool or with the NAIC or other organizations or sites you find in such places. The tough part is the courage to show up for a process of surprises and a mantra to keep you focused. Find your passion whatever it is and nurture it. Follow it.

Here's to us all and a future full of all we hope for.

In the infamous words of Oprah Winfrey, a most incredible woman who in my humble opinion has put her money to work better than any woman I've ever seen:


Warmest wishes,

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When Life Gives You Lemons
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