Cadre of experts to handhold women through divorce


The women are architects, film industry executives, skin-care consultants, product managers at tech companies, psychologists. They have worked in finance, publishing and television, though some had scaled back or left the workforce when their children were born. Divorce is what they have in common.

One Sunday morning in early June, seven of them gathered for a boot camp/workshop in the backyard of a century-old Brooklyn Heights carriage house. Blending motivational exercises, not altogether successfully, with a physical exercise routine, the workshop was led by a former music industry executive-turned-lifestyle coach. She was young and earnest, and if her instructions were sometimes incomprehensible (obfuscated by a dizzying array of New Age-isms), Elise Pettus, whose house it was, offered subtitles.

“She wants us to say something we’re excited about, and something we’re not,” Ms. Pettus said after one particularly knotty passage, “even if it makes us feel icky.”

One woman, a European-born Internet executive, raised her hand. “I am excited about my fantastic new job,” she said. “Not excited? This week I don’t feel so solid inside. But I have one issue: What is ‘icky’?”

For the last two years, Ms. Pettus, 52, has used her soaring, glass-walled living room and backyard to help women mired in the weeds of divorce navigate that which is profoundly icky. She provides community, respite and, most important, resources by hosting monthly panels, seminars and workshops on topics such as collaborative law, litigation and mediation, raising teenagers, financial planning, real estate, grief, dating and midlife sex, led by experts.

Untied is what she calls her accidental business, but you might call her a divorce saloniste — or a connector, in the Malcolm Gladwell definition of the word. In a neighbourhood that is an avatar of a certain kind of upper-middle-class family ideal, her venture is a clever and intuitive use for a home that is suddenly empty, but spectacular looking. Not that she planned it that way.

Trained as a journalist and filmmaker, Pettus saw a market niche when she went through her own divorce five years ago. On the night that she and her husband and their two young sons moved into the house they had spent three years renovating, Ms. Pettus’s husband turned to her and announced he would like to separate. He moved out a month later. “It was an out-of-body experience,” she said. “I was so stunned, so collapsed by grief, but I thought, thank God for the Internet. I’m going to find these really intelligent women I can ask, ‘What kind of lawyer do I call? Do you need a lawyer? Did your kids turn out OK? Did you regret keeping the house?’ When my mother was sick with cancer, there were all these listservs. But I couldn’t find that place. And you can’t really put up a sign at your kids’ school asking people to meet you for coffee to talk about their impending divorce.”

Ms. Pettus is not alone in her efforts. While New York has trailed the rest of the country in divorce law, grass-roots support systems surrounding the process have been growing, according to Lauren Behrman, a psychotherapist who specialises in divorce. — New York Times News Service

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Printable version | Dec 13, 2019 4:52:50 PM |

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