Invest the time and energy into working on yourself. There are many things in life we can’t control, but we can control our thoughts and actions with practice.
As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce” I had the pleasure of interviewing Prudence Henschke.
Prudence Henschke is a certified divorce coach and divorce lawyer based in Melbourne, Australia. Prudence has worked exclusively in the field of divorce law for almost 15 years. For the past 7 years, she has run a boutique family law practice in suburban Melbourne.
Prudence is an Accredited Specialist in Family Law — a State-based recognition of superior knowledge, experience and proficiency in her field. Prudence recently started an online divorce coaching business, to help people navigating the emotional and practical challenges that come up during separation and in co-parenting after divorce. Prudence specializing in working with mothers, to help them feel supported, calm and confident as they navigate the transition.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My father is a divorce lawyer. I grew up visiting him at work, hearing conversations over the dinner table about law and working in his office.
When I was in school I helped out with office admin, at his firm, during my term breaks. Once I finished school I continued working on and off for him, with increasing responsibility over time. Over the years I had the opportunity to watch my father work and learn the ins and outs of both practicing family law and running a business. It was through this early exposure to family law that I decided to follow in my father’s footsteps and practice in the area.
Can you explain to our readers why you are an authority about “divorce”?
I have been in or around family law my whole life. I have practiced exclusively in the field of family law since being admitted to practice. I have worked in the city and suburbs for small, medium and large firms. I have worked on the full spectrum of family law cases. In 2009 I undertook further study to become an Accredited Specialist in Family Law. In 2011, I opened my own family law practice. As a divorce coach, I bring my legal training and experience and combine it with my coach training and interest in personal development to support clients holistically.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
Most of my interesting stories are closely linked to the specific scenarios in a case — which due to confidentiality I can’t share. But, one interesting story from the start of my career was how I got my first job. After finished my legal studies I spent a few months backpacking around the US, en route to the UK where I planned to live and work for a year or two. While in the US, I spoke to my parents about sending some of my winter clothes to the UK, to meet me when I arrived. My father had a lawyer friend in London and arranged for my things to be sent to his office. When I went to collect the box, his friend happened to be there and we got chatting. I walked out with not only my box but a job.
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?
In my first few years of practice, I was working in the city. It was often the case that after the initial meeting with the client, the majority of dealings were over the phone or via email. One day I had arranged to meet a client at Court. The client was late. As I was about to head into the Courtroom — flustered and minus my client, he called out to me. I had seen a man, who it turns out was my client, sitting near where I had been all along. For some odd reason he hadn’t approached me and clearly I hadn’t recognized him. The lesson I learned was to contact the client the day before Court and ask them to keep an eye out for me. I also try to arrange to meet clients somewhere very specific and uncrowded.
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?
- Build a skilled care team around you.
By this, I mean both a network of close friends and family who you can rely on to be there for you, together with professionals to help you. Take the time to choose the professionals you work with carefully. In every profession, there is a huge variation in the style, approach, and manner of the service providers. Divorce and rebuilding your life after can be such an emotional and stressful time — you need people around you who are not only competent but who you feel comfortable with and supported by. I have had many coaching clients recount regrets about engaging a particular professional and then adding to that regret by not taking action to find someone else to fill those shoes as soon as it became apparent they weren’t a good fit.
- Invest the time and energy into working on yourself. There are many things in life we can’t control, but we can control our thoughts and actions with practice. Navigating the transition from your old life to your new can mean facing some old demons and finding a new way of being. Take the healing process slowly and get the right support. If you aren’t able to afford to work with a professional read and listen to podcasts on the topics of courage, resilience, strength, letting go and healing. Wearing my lawyer’s hat I have seen many clients stuck in the story of their divorce, struggling emotionally, unable to move forward. Some internal work needs to be done to move past these blocks.
- Be proactive in the process. It’s your life and your future. It’s tempting to give away your power to those around you, particularly when you are feeling fragile and vulnerable. However, you (not your best friend, mother, sister or professionals you work with) will be living with the long term consequences of your choices. Take the time to educate yourself about the process and your healing after divorce. Make full use of the professionals you are working with — ask questions, and don’t settle until you fully understand. Seek out resources in the form of books and podcasts which can help you understand other issues in the transition. Empower yourself.
A word of caution — don’t listen exclusively to Facebook forums or specific advice from people who don’t know you or your situation. I’ve been a bystander in many a Facebook conversation where some of the advice being given is plainly wrong.
- Take care of yourself. Separation and the period of transition which follows is often more like a marathon than a sprint. To maintain your stamina and mental and physical wellbeing during the ups and downs your self-care needs to be prioritized. Brainstorm activities which fill your cup (some of which you may have neglected during your relationship) and make the time and space in your calendar to do them regularly. I have worked with many clients in my role as a lawyer, who had major health issues manifest during their separation, due to physical and emotional exhaustion.
- Get clear from the outset on your values and priorities. It’s easy in the stress and overwhelms of adjusting to the changes in your life post-divorce, to lose perspective and sight of your bigger goals and priorities. For example, a coaching client may share that their children’s wellbeing is their highest priority, but the behavior (for example speaking badly about their ex in front of their child post-divorce) would be inconsistent with that bigger goal.
What are the most common mistakes people make after they go through a divorce? What can be done to avoid that?
Throwing in the towel.
Overwhelmed by the stress and pressure, some people get to a point where everything feels too hard and they give up. This can lead to regret when they are back in the right headspace and yet undoing what has been agreed may be costly to remedy and/or impossible. If you are struggling with the process, get support and slow things down, until your mindset is right.
Taking a rigid approach.
Being open, flexible and reasonable are far more likely to get you an outcome you can live with. If you are immovable in your approach, the legal costs are likely to escalate and may not result in the outcome you want, particularly if a Judge ultimately makes the final decision.
Placing too much reliance on a new relationship.
Your knight in shining armor has entered your life and promises to take care of you. It is a mistake to prematurely assume your new partner will “save you” financially when making decisions about the division of assets with your ex. I have seen numerous cases where a new partner disappears shortly after the final deal and a client is left regretting choices they made in the settlement. Consideration of this possibility should help you avoid making poor choices.
Allowing others to make decisions for you.
It is tempting to delegate your decision making, but you know better than anyone what is best for you and your family. Decisions you have arrived at, after taking on board the opinions of your advisors, are more likely to be ones you are at peace with.
Having unrealistic expectations.
The family law system is imperfect. Your ex may never change their way of being. The personal injustices you feel should be relevant, may not be. Being realistic about what is achievable and what you can control is important to recognize early on, before spending significant time, money and energy trying to change things that are beyond your control.
Taking on board information from unreliable sources.
Friends and family, while well-meaning, often do not have the skills and training to answer your divorce questions or help you navigate the system. Each divorce has its own unique facts. Relying on information from online forums or articles based on someone’s personal experience is not always helpful and can sometimes actually harm the progress of your matter. Be selective about where you get your information.
Moving on too quickly
There can be a tendency to re-partner shortly after divorce, for the companionship, comfort and security (both financial and emotional) that a new relationship can provide. However, if you haven’t given yourself sufficient time to process the separation, learn and heal, there is a possibility you will still be carrying the emotional baggage into your next relationship. Deciding when it is the right time to start another serious relationship is entirely personal, but in my experience rushing into the next relationship without some time alone and to work on yourself can lead to problems.
Not doing the self-work to heal and move on
There are some people who move through the transition from married to single relatively seamlessly. There are others who years after their divorce are still carrying feelings of bitterness, anger and resentment. Seeking professional help to properly heal from the relationship and move forward is important.
Communicating poorly with their ex
If you have children of your relationship, the divorce does not mean the end of your contact with your ex. Work on developing good communication skills which can help avoid problems and arguments cropping up between you and your ex in the future.
Not getting enough support with co-parenting
Successfully co-parenting and knowing how to support your children through the transition are skills. Whether you come to develop these skills “on the job” or through formal learning — either with a professional or through books and podcasts –they are vital to have if you want a peaceful and amicable family.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources related to this topic that you would recommend to our readers?
In divorce focused podcasts — I’m enjoying the “Divorce Sucks” podcast by Laura Wasser of It’s Over Easy. The subject matter is so varied and I like Laura’s down to earth style. I also learn a lot from the podcasts “Like a Mother” by Emma Johnson, “Divorce and Other things you can handle” from the team at Worthy, “Breaking Free: A Modern Divorce Podcast” by Rebecca Zung and Susan Guthrie and “Divorce Well” by Modern Separations. In books — for a general overview I like Laura Wasser’s “It Doesn’t Have to Be that Way”. For skills in communicating more effectively with your ex, Bill Eddy’s books are a great resource, particularly his book on BIFF responses. I’ve just finished reading “Blend” by Mashonda Tifrere, which gives some good tips on navigating a break-up and successfully creating a blended family.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” ”that helped you in this work? Can you share how that was relevant in your real life?
My favorite quote, which has been taped above my desk for years, is by Ralph Waldo Emmerson. It is titled “What is success?” –
“To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty; To find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived; This is to have succeeded.”
Early in my career, I was working long hours and not taking proper care of myself. I felt burnt out and was left questioning my definition of success. This quote helped me reframe my ideas about success.
The line, “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived — this is to have succeeded” is something I have come back to time and time again. I like to think if I can help make things easier for one person going through divorce and starting the next chapter, I am succeeding.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
My main focus at the moment is building greater awareness around what divorce coaching is and how it can help someone navigating a separation and creating their life beyond divorce.
Until the concept of divorce coaching is more mainstream, it will remain underutilized. I can see the enormous value divorce coaching brings — now it’s about getting the message across to more people. If divorce coaching can help people separate more respectfully and peacefully — which I feel it does — it can be a tool to bring about change in 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. 🙂
Divorce needs an image overhaul. I would like to see the way divorce is viewed and handled change. If people can see that the divorce process can be done in a positive, respectful and amicable way, it may be possible to avoid many of the long term problems that are created when it is done badly — particularly for children.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment 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 with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I’d love the opportunity to sit down with Gwyneth Paltrow. Her “conscious uncoupling” with Chris Martin started such an important conversation. Gwyneth and Chris are a very public example of divorce done differently. I have heard Gwyneth speak about the work it takes to get to a place where you can successfully co-parent. Gwyneth and Chris have both been respectful in what they have shared with the media, appear to have found a way to navigate co-parenting, and have successfully created a new family dynamic (including new partners). I’d like to hear her perspective on separation and divorce and in particular her ideas about ways to make the process easier for people.