Divorce resource center to offer series of workshops for women

By: Robin Ruehlen | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published February 27, 2013

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP — When divorce is imminent, navigating the legal, emotional and financial steps can seem like a daunting task, even for the most independent woman.

As a certified financial planner who has worked with many women in the process of divorce, Huntington Woods resident Rebecca Salama recognized the need for additional resources in all aspects of the process — leading her, along with Bloomfield Hills certified financial planner Vicki McLellan, to found the Women’s Divorce Resource Center in 2012. WDRC is a project of the United Charitable Programs, a nonprofit organization.

“The women I see are often very overwhelmed and confused, and they don’t know where to start. They are intimidated about starting off with an attorney and not knowing where to go,” she said.

Salama discovered different organizations throughout the country that run divorce education programs that are designed to help women learn about the process in a non-threatening environment.

“I started speaking to their founders to see how the programs were run, and they were very well regarded. They had legal, financial and emotional resources for women — so I decided to bring that locally.”

The WDRC will host its first seminar, “Your Divorce Workshop,” on March 16 at the Bloomfield Township Public Library. Salama said the three-hour workshop includes an attorney who will discuss different filing options, therapists who will offer ways on how to cope with the grief of a divorce and a financial planner.

“The financial process is obviously big, and people are unprepared for that. We can show you how to get organized with a budget, prepare your statements and have things ready,” she said.

“Generally, there is one spouse who handles the finances and one who handles other things — the kids, the house. For the non-money spouse, it can be a huge learning curve to go from not handling the finances to being in control of a new household.”

One of the biggest mistakes women make during the divorce process, she said, is overestimating alimony payments, or even their own income post-divorce.

“Both parties need to drastically change their lifestyles in order to avoid getting into debt post-divorce,” she said.

“When money is tight and you’re living paycheck to paycheck, you’re suddenly adding an entire new household, with bills. They can end up in a massive debt situation a year out, and it’s hard to pull yourself out of that.”

Bloomfield Hills divorce attorney Danielle Smith, who will be speaking at the workshop in May, said it is vital that women who are contemplating divorce know their legal options, and the different processes that are available to them.

“People see so much TV, and they don’t understand the reality of what happens when you intersect with the court system. It’s very important for them to understand the process,” she said.

“I explain the different questions you might ask an attorney and ways you might interview them to determine if your values line up with theirs, and how to be efficient in using their time to your best advantage. I recommend interviewing at least three attorneys.”

Smith said parties either complete a divorce by agreement or by trial; trial being by far the most traumatic and expensive process, involving expert witnesses, personal testimony and more time.

“Trial is an extremely emotional endeavor  — you’ll probably be called as a witness and get up and say things about your former spouse that are irretrievable,” she said.

“It’s an extremely expensive process, and all-consuming. You’re extending the trauma of divorce and making it worse.”

Smith, herself, deals with a process known as collaborative divorce, where parties deal first with the emotional issues, and move on to legal issues afterward. 

“In collaborative divorce, parties meet with divorce coaches who are mental health professionals to get them over that emotional edge. The attorneys on both sides are non-adversarial — they are facilitative,” she said.

“If spouses can deal with the emotional part and communicate with each other on a business-like level, they’re able to make much more intelligent decisions going forward.”

“Your Divorce Workshop” will be held 9:45 a.m.-1 p.m. March 16 at the Bloomfield Township Public Library, 1099 Lone Pine Road in Bloomfield Township. The cost is $45 per person and includes refreshments and workshop materials. Pre-registration is required. Register online at www.womens-divorce.org by clicking the “sign-up” link on the Events page, or by calling (248) 799-5938. Additional seminar dates will also be held at the library in April, May, September, October and November.