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Jonathan Breeden: “Make a realistic budget”

Make a realistic budget. Write down your must-have expenses and those that are nice-to-haves. Then prioritize them and figure out how you will pay for those expenses. For example, you may discover that a part-time job will cover your bills, or you may learn that a full-time position is best to make ends meet. As part […]

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Make a realistic budget. Write down your must-have expenses and those that are nice-to-haves. Then prioritize them and figure out how you will pay for those expenses. For example, you may discover that a part-time job will cover your bills, or you may learn that a full-time position is best to make ends meet.


As part of our series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce Or Breakup” I had the pleasure of interviewingJonathan Breeden.

Jonathan Breeden is the principal attorney at the Breeden Law Office. Founded in 2000 and with multiple offices in North Carolina, he provides representation to families going through divorce, child custody disputes, adoption, and all manner of domestic law issues. Attorney Breeden has dedicated his career to offering families in North Carolina the guidance and advocacy they deserve.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up in Laurinburg, NC, a small town of approximately 20,000 people. My upbringing instilled in me the importance of hard work and community involvement. These lessons paired with my work ethic motivated me to attend North Carolina State University shortly after I graduated from high school. In 1993, I completed my studies at the top of my class, continued my legal education at Campbell University School of Law, and studied law abroad in London, England. Once I graduated from Campbell and had gained valuable experience on how cases were handled, I opened my firm in late 2000.

Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve wanted to be a lawyer since the 9th grade. That year, during Civics class, I read The Federalist Papers and became fascinated with how the Founding Fathers described the type of democracy they wanted to build in the USA. I admired the way they drafted the Constitution and, as a result, I realized that practicing law would be a way to honor what men like James Madison had started.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

It’s difficult to decide on just one since while practicing Family Law, I usually encounter people facing a crisis. Not to mention that it’s typically a predicament that will forever change the lives of the children involved.

With that in mind, there was a recent case where the children were living in hotels continuously because a stable home wasn’t easily accessible. So, under the circumstances, my team and I were able to get the kids into the custody of their father who had a home. Also, they are now able to consistently attend school.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was a brand-new attorney, I handled a case where there were allegations that my client was using illegal drugs. This became very serious since the case involved the Department of Social Services and the children were in foster care. My client insisted that he was clean, so I trusted his word and asked his wife in court, to prove how she knew this allegation was true. She literally said that she witnessed him use drugs as recently as the night before. The judge almost fell out.

Needless to say, I learned to always ask a question in court that I already knew and verified the answer to.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

It’s not a quote from a well-known person but rather a concept that I’ve realized throughout my life and career.

Your parents are the two most important people in your life while you’re a child. That includes even if they have issues to overcome.

It’s a life lesson that I like to remind my clients of, especially if circumstances tempt them to criticize the other parent.

The truth is a child is here as a result of two people, and they will think about the other person whether they are MIA or not. It’s important to acknowledge that and refrain from emotionally cutting them in half.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

At my firm, we are developing a better case flow management system. Our goal is to create a better way of tracking cases and to ensure that we’re consistently providing great service in a timely manner to our clients. We also want to improve how we nurture our leads, especially those who aren’t ready to work with us at the time they reach out to the firm.

Recently we hired a Client Success Manager as the first step in achieving this objective, and we’re excited about how this will create a better client experience.

As I mentioned earlier, my team and I are helping clients during a crisis in their life and ensuring there’s no additional stress during an already emotional process, is extremely important.

Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell us a bit about your experience going through a divorce, or helping someone who was going through a divorce? What did you learn about yourself during and after the experience? Do you feel comfortable sharing a story?

As I’ve helped clients navigate divorce proceedings, I’ve repeatedly seen the devastating effect of mental illness on families. Typically, narcissism or personality disorders are the cause of an unhealthy home.

To be honest, I didn’t expect that when I first started practicing Family Law.

Another thing I discovered was that success in a case isn’t always winning. It’s more about making sure that each side gets a fair shake, and that the family isn’t destroyed — particularly after the lawyers and judges are gone.

Learning this made me realize that I actually enjoy the counseling aspect of my career. It’s rewarding to encourage clients and guide them towards making better decisions.

It’s also very fulfilling to share the available local resources with clients who are also victims of domestic violence — that includes physical, verbal, and emotional. Unfortunately, I typically see domestic violence only viewed as physical abuse. Therefore, when a client recognizes its other forms and decides to take action in the best interest of their well-being, I view it as a win.

In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes people make after they go through a divorce? What can be done to avoid that?

The most common mistakes made are:

  1. Speaking badly about the other parent. As I stated before, it always hurts the child.
  2. Rushing into another relationship. This isn’t your typical rebound relationship. It’s more one that begins because a person wants to prove that they can have a successful relationship. It’s not a wise decision, especially if someone has recently exited a violent situation. Unfortunately, the rush results in going back to something similar.
  3. Living with a new romantic partner fairly quickly. It’s short-sighted, particularly when kids are involved, and judges are not fond of it.
  4. Failing to financially adjust to a new lifestyle. After a divorce, many people experience a significant change in their budget. In fact, it’s usually lower. When a person fails to face their new financial reality, it negatively impacts their stability in the long run.

To avoid each of these it’s best to seek professional help from a counselor, and a financial advisor. The counselor will provide a safe space for you to heal and, if you have kids, not affect them. Therapy will even help you recognize destructive patterns, like codependency. On the other hand, besides creating a budget, a financial advisor can help a person live within their means while also planning for the future, e.g., retirement.

People generally label “divorce” as being “negative”. And yes, while there are downsides, there can also be a lot of positive that comes out of it as well. What would you say that they are? Can you share an example or share a story?

Normally divorce isn’t a bad thing. It’s simply getting out of a bad situation, and that’s a good thing, especially when someone is escaping domestic violence.

It also gives someone the opportunity to:

  • Relearn themselves
  • Regain, or gain, independence
  • Have space to heal from past pain, and
  • Improve their self-talk.

Even during the COVID pandemic, these are positive, attainable goals.

Some people are scared to ‘get back out there’ and date again after being with their former spouse for many years and hearing dating horror stories. What would you say to motivate someone to get back out there and start a new beginning?

Honestly, I think it best to stay out of this decision.

Instead, I encourage clients to better themselves first. Whether that means going to counseling or re-enrolling in school. I think it’s best that they rediscover what makes them happy.

What is the one thing people going through a divorce should be open to changing?

If I could insist on one thing, it would be being open to scaling back some parts of their lifestyle. Divorce has an unmistakable impact on one’s finances. Therefore, making budget changes are necessary for a content life and secure future.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. If you had a close friend come to you for advice after a divorce, what are 5 things you would advise in order to survive and thrive after the divorce? Can you please give a story or example for each?

I’d say:

  1. Make a realistic budget. Write down your must-have expenses and those that are nice-to-haves. Then prioritize them and figure out how you will pay for those expenses. For example, you may discover that a part-time job will cover your bills, or you may learn that a full-time position is best to make ends meet.
  2. Create an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). Whether you’re receiving payments from your former spouse or not, it’s best to roll over the remaining retirement funds into an IRA.
  3. Consider entering the workforce. A job provides a sense of purpose and includes positive reinforcement. Even if doesn’t pay a lot of money, these are two things that will rebuild your wellbeing after a divorce. You could consider a career path that you always wanted to pursue, like fashion design. Or you could try something new like digital marketing.
  4. If you have kids, be willing to share them and be positive. Children need both of their parents, even if the other one has flaws. Avoid speaking negatively about your former partner. Be willing to let them see the other parent in a safe environment. I know it’s a challenge but I’m stressing this because not doing this consistently backfires. Unfortunately, many kids end up resenting the parent that raised them and become closer with the estranged one. You must remember that you and your former partner are the most important people in your child’s life.
  5. Invest in your happiness. People typically lose sight of what they enjoy long before they file for a divorce. The period after one is the best time to rediscover what makes you laugh, smile, and feel fulfilled. It could be as simple as restarting your favorite hobby. Or as major as reconnecting with an old friend. Whatever it is, do something for yourself.

The stress of a divorce can take a toll on both one’s mental and emotional health. In your opinion or experience, what are a few things people going through a divorce can do to alleviate this pain and anguish?

In my experience, it’s best to:

  • Start consistent therapy. You can choose to go weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. Whatever frequency you determine, make sure you work with someone to help you pick up the pieces after divorce.
  • Take care of your physical health. That includes eating well, exercising, and doing yoga at your house.
  • Do things you enjoy. Start by making a list and then start doing each item. If there has to be a delay due to COVID, start planning and give yourself something exciting to anticipate.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources related to this topic that you would recommend to our readers?

Think and Grow Rich.

It’s a popular book in business circles but it also applies to life after divorce since it’s truly about the power of positive thinking. In my experience, this change in mindset is a major key to successfully surviving a divorce.

Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I could inspire anything, it would be a movement around the power of positive self-talk. It’s essential to your mental and emotional health, and I think many people could use that reminder today.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would love to chat with Curt Richardson, the founder of Otterbox. I recently heard his story on a podcast, and I’m intrigued by how he created an innovative product plus built a company around that. It would be great to know how he successfully scaled his business.

Thank you for these great insights and for the time you spent with this interview. We wish you only continued success!

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