Even for those who have experienced one, it’s often hard to anticipate all that divorce entails. Enormous attorneys fees, the months-long waiting game, the unexpected judgment from friends or family, the financial and parenting plans that need to be set in place.
These were some of the realities Leah Hill said she faced when she left her marriage of 17 years in late 2016. And the mother of three faced them largely without access to support or information.
“Divorce can be a very lonely process,” said Hill, founder of the 2-year-old startup Divorce Strategies Northwest. “You’re going through this very traumatic, emotional situation, and you are literally negotiating for your future life.”
After her own long, traumatic, and expensive experience going through a divorce, Hill, a trained victims advocate and certified parenting coach, was familiar with the difficult barriers littering the divorce process, and the places where there weren’t adequate support systems. So, she started Divorce Strategies Northwest to fill those gaps and help people avoid similar situations.
“A lot of aversion to divorce is fear of the unknown, so information is power,” Hill said. “We help our clients break it down: Looking at the numbers, what would your reality be? What would your parenting plan look like? What would your financial life look like?”
The “we” of Divorce Strategies Northwest is Hill and her two business partners, Stephanie Guarin and Lissy Des Voigne; the three have collective experience in corporate event management, finance, tax law, divorce coaching, and money management.
Without the support of Divorce Strategies Northwest — believed to be the only business of its kind locally — people considering or experiencing divorce for the first time don’t have easy access to much guidance.
“The first step that most people think is, ‘OK; I need to start calling law firms,’” Hill said. “And (an attorney) will often start by asking you for a large sum of money — $10,000 — to start your account. And in many cases, people just don’t have access to that kind of money without alerting their spouse.”
This step proves to be one of many stumbling blocks for people seeking a divorce, especially if they are in an unhealthy or unsafe relationship.
“I had no way to get any information without alerting my spouse that I was interested in exiting the marriage,” Hill said. “The entire process just seemed so dreadfully inefficient to me. I had so many questions and no one to ask.”
That’s where Divorce Strategies Northwest steps in: Clients are able to meet and communicate with the three women in order to ask questions, access information, think about post-divorce needs, understand the process, and create a strategy before ever seeking an attorney.
Hill made it clear that the startup is by no means a surrogate for a qualified and knowledgeable attorney, which continues to be an essential piece to the process of divorce. Rather, Divorce Strategies Northwest prepares its clients — both men and women, sometimes couples together — then connects them with local boutique attorneys. Lower overheads combined with the fact that clients essentially have their “homework done” by the time they’re paying an attorney’s hourly rates, Hill said, save people a lot of money.
“We charge our clients a flat fee for all of our services, which ends up paying for itself: Attorneys tell us that the clients we send them are more organized, calmer, and have more realistic expectations about the divorce,” she said. “In fact, attorneys are actually starting to send clients to us because it helps streamline the entire process.”
And the emotional energy saved by having access to support and information is just as important.
“A lot of our clients say to us, ‘You saved my friendships,’” Hill said. “We encourage people to use their friends as friends and to use us for the point people about the divorce, which puts less stress on the friendships.”
They also give recommendations about social media (avoid it), how to communicate with a spouse throughout the process of separation and divorce, and how to navigate those first holidays apart.
“(Many people have) never experienced this before they come to us,” Hill said of the approximately 60 clients the startup has served since it officially launched in January 2018. Even if it’s not someone’s first divorce, the process is complex and draining enough to necessitate extra help.
Through constant contact with one of the three women at Divorce Strategies Northwest, clients are able to work through the process of divorce in the healthiest way possible — with the ability to ask questions that attorneys likely do not have time to field. The startup also offers to connect its clients with providers from its large host of partner vendors, including local therapists, attorneys, financial advisors, real estate agents, and related professionals.
At the end of the day, Hill said, information is power — and Divorce Strategies Northwest provides an accessible route to the necessary information to survive a divorce.
“When we provide them with a clearer picture of what the divorce process looks like, and that life on the other side of divorce doesn’t have to have a traumatic ending but can be a new beginning, people feel much more empowered,” Hill said. “They just need to be assured that it will be OK, their kids will survive, and they won’t be destitute at the end.”