Leslie Montanile of ‘Ask Leslie the Lawyer’: “Change your daily Routine”

Change your daily Routine. To truly move on from your old life prior to divorce, changing your daily routine is a must. Every week make a change from something old to something new. Take a different route home. Exercise at night if you used to in the morning. Change your bank or location. Try a […]

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Change your daily Routine. To truly move on from your old life prior to divorce, changing your daily routine is a must. Every week make a change from something old to something new. Take a different route home. Exercise at night if you used to in the morning. Change your bank or location. Try a new supermarket for your groceries. Try a new nail salon or go with colors you would never have used before, it’s only paint. Explore what is around you and say yes to all the things you said no to before. Skip the excuses and embrace the new you.

As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce Or Breakup”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Leslie Montanile. She began practicing matrimonial law in 1992 in Los Angeles, California, after receiving her law degree from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City. Working in a prestigious boutique law firm, she worked closely with clients to successfully achieve their desired goals and immediate needs. Upon moving back to her native home in New York and working at NBC between 1997–1999, Ms. Montanile decided in January of 2000 to open her own law practice, dedicating her legal career to help women effectively navigate the process of divorce and to achieve independent financial success.
A member of the State Bar Associations of New York, California, and Connecticut, Ms. Montanile has helped hundreds of women throughout her 28-year career. Her experience encompasses a wide range of successful settlement negotiations, including but not limited to pre-nuptials, post-nuptials, uncontested stipulations, custody arrangements, and other complex financial agreements. She is also a member of the Westchester Women’s Bar Association, Business Council of Westchester, and a woman’s NYC mastermind group. 
As a legal professional, Leslie has made various guest appearances on radio and podcast shows, including Fox News Radio, The Women’s Radio Network, Morning Show-Connecticut 1, Chione Hardy, and Women Developing Brilliance. Her expertise has also been referenced in The Wall Street Journal, Westchester Magazine, The Times Record, The Parent Herald, and other numerous outlets.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up in a suburb on the North Shore of Long Island just 30 miles outside of New York City. Being a kid was a lot of fun for me; bike riding with friends, playing in all of our backyards, hanging out after school, and participating in activities together like dance, cheerleading, sports, school plays, and doing all kinds of girl stuff. I had an awesome big sister, but seven years older was worlds apart back then. By the time I was ten, my sister was off to college, and I was essentially an only child, reaping all of my parents’ attention when they were around.

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

I always wanted to be an actress; however, after a promising opportunity to audition for a Broadway show at 15, my mother told me in no uncertain terms that acting was a career for pretending. She added that she felt that I had what it took to be a doctor, lawyer, or successful in business and that I should pick one. So at 15, devastated, with the belief that my mother did not believe in me (which could not have been further from the truth), I altered my course (perhaps the first of many pivots to come) and chose law as my path. I decided to study Political Science in college, where, thankfully, I had several professors comment on my potential and enthusiasm for the study of law, validating my career choice.

What brought me to matrimonial law, specifically, was my first job offer (almost on the spot) after passing the NY Bar Exam. At the time, I was visiting family in CA awaiting my NY Bar results. The job offer was as an associate with a sole practitioner in Los Angeles, whose specialty was divorce, and he was very good at it. I understood then that I would be able to learn much more in a smaller office than I would at the larger firms so I decided to give the West Coast and matrimonial law a shot.

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

In 2010, a client walked through my doors that never should have been there in the first place. In her mid-fifties, married at the age of 17 with several children and a multitude of grandchildren, her life was complete until one day she discovered her spouse was not the man she thought he was for all those years, and she knew in her heart she had to leave him, for her self preservation.

Our representation was a dicey decision as it entailed writing out a check to retain our services, something that she was not comfortable with as her husband had always handled the finances. A commonality shared between most of the women I have represented. The good news — in her case — is that she had access to money.

The day after she hired us, the fireworks began. We received an urgent call from her that she had been transported by private ambulance from the driveway of her home to a hospital in NYC… her family, who was very upset by her decision to divorce their father had other plans. Not only did they not want the divorce, but they also wanted her controlled, locked away from the outside world where she could not tell her story. My partner (who is also my spouse) and I went to the hospital to meet with her. Upon entering, we were greeted by a bombardment of family members, doing their best to intimidate and scare us away. We would have none of it. With the client’s welfare in mind, we demanded that if a need for observation was genuine, she should receive care at a hospital nearby where she was also receiving treatment for an ongoing illness. After a couple of hours in the Emergency Room and numerous conversations with the ER doctor, she relented and provided us with a transport order for our client to be taken to the requested hospital. Confident that the ER doctor was good to her word, we departed feeling a slight twinge of victory, knowing that the battle had yet begun. Three hours later, we decided to call the requested hospital to see if our client had been, indeed, admitted. To our dismay, our client was nowhere to be found. Apparently, the original transport order had been changed again, and our client had disappeared into thin air. Luckily, my husband and partner, who practices in a different area of the law knew all the buttons to push, and after 5 hours of us working the phones by midnight, we were told the location of our client and confirmed that she was safe and secure.

The next morning we had her released and taken home. Her spouse of 37 years abducted her and tried to have her committed — so that she could not divorce him — and get her fair share of their fortune that they had built together over a lifetime. Yes, there are people like this out there, and the stories I could tell are endless.

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?

While working in my first law job in LA, we had a client who swore up and down that she didn’t own any real estate. However, her soon-to-be ex-spouse insisted that she owned a home in another part of Southern California yet, there had been no documentation that we could find at the time that had her listed as an owner. As the trial neared, tensions grew over this alleged expensive home — after some digging and creativity — we determined just in the nick of time that our client did indeed own a piece of real estate with her brother. Most importantly, real estate that her spouse had a legal right to as it was acquired during the marriage.

That client’s lie, had it come to light at the trial, could have been very damaging to the client financially, as well as to the reputation of the firm I had been working for.

The lesson: All clients lie about something. Sometimes they are embarrassed about an issue or think that they are helping their case or simply that you, their lawyer, or soon-to-be ex-spouse will not find out. WRONG.

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

There is no going backward, what is in the past cannot be changed — keep moving forward and look ahead because that is where you are going. Learn from the past and embrace the future.

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

Yes, a book that I hope will inspire, give hope, and help others, mostly women find their voice and their true inner self-worth. In the book, I share stories of my personal life, as well as my career and what everything I have learned about women, love, loss, acceptance, relationships, marriage, divorce, life challenges and successes.

Main Part of 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?

I have helped hundreds of women through the process of divorce from the beginning to the bitter end. I have listened to their stories, held their hands, cried with them, laughed with them, and kicked them off the pity pot. While they hired me as their lawyer to protect them and fight, when necessary, for what was fair and right for them and often their young children — I was also there to support and inspire them to move on into the unknown yet, not uncertain, future and bring to life the light inside of them.

What I learned about myself from watching others suffer from the death of a relationship, wondering what they did wrong, what could they have done to change the outcome or if they will ever find love again and worst, if they are even worthy of someone else’s love is that I needed to find a way to be that beacon of hope and pillar of strength that would not let them fall into the abyss of self-loathing and ultimately self-pity. So one woman at a time, sometimes one man, with gentle but tough love, we work together as a team to build a brighter future and fresh start from a position of strength, self-confidence and most importantly self-love.

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

  1. Believing that what once was your life will always be your life. Change brings on change, it’s inevitable.
  2. Holding onto the anger (playing the martyr) will somehow make you feel better, it won’t. LET IT GO! So, you can move on.
  3. Playing the Blame game — it takes two to tango, two to get married, two to make love, two to fight, and two to divorce — Continuing to blame your partner after it is over signifies that you have yet, to accept your role in the breakdown of the relationship. Accountability is a significant step in moving forward.

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?

  1. You no longer have to pretend to be something you are not; or feel/act a certain way when you do not want to.
  2. You no longer have to cover or put on a front for your children. By the way, your children already knew the truth about your relationship — maybe before both of you did. Except for the very young age eight and under.
  3. You are now free to pursue your life dreams that may have taken a back seat to your ex-spouse’s career and or raising your children.

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?

First, forget other people’s horror stories — there will always be those. Always keep in mind that you are not other people and that your story is unique, and your life experience only belongs to you. Of course, you will meet people along the way that are not for you but, if you are not out there in the world living your life, you will never meet the person that is. Second, laugh off the bad dates, and remember if it was a bad date for you, most likely it was bad for your date too.

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

Their daily routine. When a new client sits with me for the first time, I always have them tell me about their daily routine and ask them to change just one thing, right then and there. Immediately, I ask them to practice that change until it becomes a part of their new routine. Breaking the old patterns of living brings new freedom and confidence that comes with positive change. Once the old daily routine is disrupted, it is gone for good, and without having to say more, my clients begin reshaping their lives, replacing old habits with new ones.

Main Question: 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?

1. Envision your life as you want to live it

Seeing what your life can look like in your mind can really help you plan for your future, the future that you may have been dreaming about for some time. Writing down your dreams, desires and goals for your life in a diary or a journal will allow you to explore yourself and dig deeper into what makes you tick and what will ultimately make you happy for your life-your purpose.

2. Make a plan for getting what you want

Once you are clear on what your purpose is for your new life achieving those goals can seem like a daunting task. Creating a plan, like a road map, will enable you to take one step at a time — one day at a time- to get you where you want to go. Your plan should include where and how you want to live, your financial picture, career goals and social interests. Defining each of these in writing will give you the ability to take steps towards creating your new life. For example, when you understand your finances, savings, earnings, credit, retirement, etc.… it will help you decide on how you want to live (buying vs. renting) and where you want to live (the city, suburbs, farm, beach, lake, or mountains). It will also give you security knowing exactly what you have and what you are comfortable living with. Social interests are very important as it encompasses your life outside of work. When rebuilding your life, you want to include those things that bring you joy from daily living.

3. Learn from others

Whether you are starting a new career, learning a new craft, delving into a new social arena, be open to learning from others that have been there before and or have the expertise to teach you something new or help you have a deeper understanding of something you already knew. Networking groups, exercise classes (in the gym and outside), card clubs, cooking classes, book clubs, knitting — whatever moves you there is a pretty good chance there is a group out there that you can join to learn or enhance your skills while making new friends and contacts all at the same time.

4. Change your daily Routine

To truly move on from your old life prior to divorce, changing your daily routine is a must. Every week make a change from something old to something new. Take a different route home. Exercise at night if you used to in the morning. Change your bank or location. Try a new supermarket for your groceries. Try a new nail salon or go with colors you would never have used before, it’s only paint. Explore what is around you and say yes to all the things you said no to before. Skip the excuses and embrace the new you.

5. Create a contract with yourself

It’s your life and if you agree with yourself, in writing, what you will set out to achieve and take those steps to get there, you will succeed. Even if the path leads you down a road less traveled or not anticipated, you will move towards that life goal that you set forth holding yourself accountable for your personal happiness and success.

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?

Accepting that you are only in control of your thoughts and responsible for your own behavior can be a huge relief and the first step to better emotional and mental health.

Understanding that you cannot control another person’s feelings, thoughts, or behavior should take the burden off of you for thinking you could have changed the circumstances that occurred, leading to the divorce. It takes two — and when one person does not live up to their end of the bargain or changes the rules, it’s merely out of your control.

Letting go of what was and embracing what is can be both scary and liberating at the same time. There is no room to take in all the new and good that is already in your life without letting go of the old feelings and behaviors that have caused so much emotional pain.

Surrounding yourself with positive friends and family — no naysayers allowed. Or perhaps, joining a supportive social group to reconnect with yourself and others — also changing up your exercise routine, starting a daily journal to capture your thoughts, goals, and dreams while learning to take pause and breathe. Practice being thankful for all that you have and not what you don’t. Health and happiness can carry you a long way down the road to a more fulfilling life filled with love.

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

God Never Blinks, Regina Brett

The Alchemist, Paulo Cohelo

The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown

As 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?

I would like to inspire a bigger women’s movement of “we” instead of “just me” and the interconnectivity of each other with integrity, love, and genuinely doing good for someone other than oneself — a paying it forward approach. In all areas of life, family, career, health, education, sports, law, finance, medicine, government, the arts — women would benefit from the strength in numbers approach lifting one another up and over the glass ceiling, never mind busting through it. And, yes, there have been women that have cracked and in places shattered the glass ceiling (Oprah, RBG, Michelle Obama, Sally Krawcheck, Barbara Walters, Gloria Allred, Katie Couric, Anna Wintour, J-LO. to name a few) yet, there are so many women, young and old, that try as they may are held back by their male counterparts. Often, sad to say, their female peers.

It is not a subject we address unless united in a movement that binds women together against power abuses like the #metoo movement. We can build women up and change the way we operate in the world when we are united; lending a helping hand, a step up the ladder, a seat at the round table, a place at the podium, a chair in the boardroom, a cup of coffee at our kitchen table, and the list goes on… Women need to know that they are enough, and together We can move mountains with our strength, courage, and unified sisterhood. Leave the judgments at home, your ego at the door, the vanity in the mirror, and your fear behind you. We do not need or want to be men; We are proud to be women who can and do make a difference in our own lives and the lives of others.

Prominent readers: 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?

OPRAH! I’ve been watching Oprah since the days of Phil Donahue. Her compassion for others, despite her own life obstacles, especially women, was unlike anything I had ever seen before, let alone watched on television. Her authenticity brought and still brings a new level of conversation to the table and the world. I have admired her essentially my entire adult life and have always had her on a very short list of people I would be honored to meet and speak with. I believe Oprah is a powerful and wonderful role model for both men and women everywhere.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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