She was lost.
After more than 20 years of marriage and raising two children with her, her husband decided he was through. He packed his bags and moved out, leaving her with a house that suddenly seemed too big and too broken to maintain.
She had no idea what to do. She had no idea who she was.
By the time she had begun to tell friends like me that she was alone, he had already been gone for weeks. By the time she was ready to contemplate divorce, almost a year had passed.
“I didn’t even know how to find a divorce attorney or if I needed one,” she said. “Maybe I still hoped I didn’t need one.”
It’s rare for a week to go by that a friend or a reader doesn’t contact me about their horrific divorce story, the latter surprisingly willing to air his or her marital dirty laundry in my column, the former simply wanting a shoulder to cry on or a glass of wine to dive into.
Divorce happens, especially among older women like my friend. The National Center for Family and Marriage Research says that couples in their 50s are twice as likely to divorce than they were just three decades ago. Couples over 65 are splitting at even higher rates than that. Interestingly, younger newlyweds are less likely to divorce than their older counterparts because, the experts say, they tend to marry later in life.
Overall, the divorce rate has been falling since it peaked in the 1970s. That is of little comfort to those looking into the gaping maw of a marital breakup without a clue as to how to uncouple, consciously or otherwise.
That’s what makes Second Saturday such a good thing. The program, created by the Women’s Institute for Financial Education (better known as WIFE, a particularly stinging acronym for the newly de-wifed), has been held in cities across the country since 1989 but only found its way to Albuquerque in March.
Second Saturday – held, as the name implies, on the second Saturday of each month – costs $25 for a three-hour workshop featuring experts in the legal, financial and therapeutic worlds who provide women information and insight on how best to divorce, or, if possible, how not to divorce at all.
“Women need to be knowledgeable and smart about how everything works, what questions to ask, what they should expect, what they should do in terms of self-care,” said Kelly Chisholm, an Albuquerque businesswoman who brought Second Saturday to the city. “Educating women is empowering women.”
Chisholm seems the perfect facilitator for this kind of program. She’s been a financial adviser and a therapist for the past 25 years and is a longtime fan of WIFE’s “knowledge is power” philosophy. She’s also been through a divorce herself, so been there, done that.
“So many things we teach I didn’t know then and wish I had,” said Chisholm, now happily in a second marriage. “Many women, for instance, don’t know that New Mexico is a community property state or what that means.”
(What than means is that, with limited exceptions, any property that belongs to the marriage or any debts that are incurred must be split equally between the partners when they divorce.)
A rotating panel consisting of a divorce lawyer, financial adviser and counselor help women navigate the choppy seas of divorce. Among the topics they cover:
⋄ Child custody and support.
⋄ Protecting yourself legally and financially.
⋄ Dealing with a hostile spouse.
⋄ Helping your family cope.
⋄ Rebuilding self-esteem.
⋄ Preparing for divorce financially.
⋄ Dividing property.
⋄ Tax consequences.
⋄ Avoiding divorce courts.
What the workshop is not, Chisholm said, is an anti-men, pro-divorce gripe session.
“It’s not a support group, and it’s not promoting divorce in any way,” she said. “It’s an unbiased, informational session to help women who may be thinking about or going through divorce to know exactly what is involved, the consequences of their choices, and think about factors they might not have considered.”
True story: As I wrote this column, I received an embittered email from a reader who is facing divorce after 33 years of marriage.
Divorce happens. Maybe it’s a good thing to learn how to take that next step with clarity.
Second Saturday Divorce Workshop, geared to women, meets the second Saturday of each month. This month’s session is 9 a.m.-noon Saturday at Office Alternatives, 4801 Lang NE, No. 110. Cost is $25. On-site registration begins 8:30 a.m. Attendees are asked to preregister at www.secondsaturdaysabq.eventbrite.com or 974-1358. Light refreshments, no child care provided.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.