Paulette Rigo of Better Divorce Academy – Helping Women Divorce with Dignity – Episode 23

Paulette Rigo

In this episode of Women’s Retirement Radio, I’m joined by Paulette Rigo of Better Divorce Academy

Paulette is a Certified Divorce Coach and Mediator who helps women make it to the other side of divorce stronger, emotionally empowered, and better financially prepared for the future.

In our conversation, we discuss Paulette’s background and personal experience with divorce and why it’s so important to her to help other women navigate the divorce process.

Click the play button below to listen to our conversation:

For more on Paulette and Better Divorce Academy, please check out these resources:

Get in touch and let me know what you think or if you have any questions.

And thank you for listening.


And if you prefer reading over listening, here’s a transcript of our conversation:

Russ Thornton:
Hey, everyone. It’s Russ, and welcome to another episode of Women’s Retirement Radio. Today I am really excited to be joined by Paulette Rigo. We’ve got some interesting things to discuss today, and she certainly brings some interesting perspectives to the table, which we’ll cover here shortly. Paulette, thanks for joining us today. How’re you doing?

Paulette Rigo:
I am well, Russ. Thank you so much for the introduction and for the invitation. I’m honored to be here with you.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. Well, thanks. I’m glad to share our conversation with our listeners. You and I’ve had the benefit of getting to know each other a little bit here over the past year or so. But for our listeners, why don’t you begin by just telling us a little bit about yourself?

Paulette Rigo:
Well, thank you for that. Well, I’m originally from the Boston area, and people always say, “No, you’re not. You don’t sound like it.” But I am, born and raised. My dad was of English descent, my mom’s French and just raised there. My mom was a dancer and my father was an intellectual. I was torn between two worlds, whether I should follow in the footsteps of my mom with the ballerina, or my father wanted me to be, I don’t know, something intellectual. But I did go to college, studied journalism, but ended up in the dance world for 20 years. During that time, of course, I started dating, ended up meeting a young gentleman, and 20 years later found myself in a messy divorce.

Paulette Rigo:
I am a credentialed mediator, a certified divorce coach, a career transition specialist. That’s another story. Many women lose child support and alimony and don’t have a plan B. That is a lot of the work that I enjoy doing. Having women create sustainable, viable businesses when they unfortunately lose child support or alimony. I founded Better Divorce Academy because of my eight and a half year fully litigated divorce case, and wrote and authored the book, Better Divorce Blueprint, which is just coming out this week. That is really, in a very quick nutshell, an overview of my background, where I am and how I got to what I’m doing now. Of course, I eliminated a lot of details, but that’s just an overview.

Russ Thornton:
Well, yeah. You covered a lot there. Something I’d like to highlight, and I believe I heard you correctly, you said your personal divorce was litigated over eight plus years? Is that correct?

Paulette Rigo:
Yeah. You probably did want to check your ears for whether you’re hearing correctly. From what I’ve learned with my own personal journey, I had no idea. I was a kid that when a TV show came on, like Perry Mason, I’m giving away my age, but I would change the channel. I had zero interest in ever spending any time with judges, lawyers in courtrooms. I didn’t know a bailiff from … I had no idea the terminology in anything. It was really not in my wheelhouse to be in a courtroom. But yes, my divorce proceeding started amicably with an attempt to mediate.

Paulette Rigo:
The mediator sent back the check in the retainer and said, “Good luck,” because there was really not enough cooperation to be able to have that conversation to mediate. As I’ve learned being a mediator, it really does take both parties to come with what we call goodwill, to make the effort to create the resolution and a settlement agreement for the parties. That did not happen, and my case went to the 3% that go to litigated cases to an eight and a half year journey. It was about a year of preparation. There were a lot of pre trial conferences and hearings. There were some contempt charges.

Paulette Rigo:
Then it went into preparing for a trial with depositions, affidavits, forensic accountants, business evaluators, GAL, parenting professionals, you name it. This is why I have as many people say I have my PhD in divorce. Then after that it went to a trial. It was an actual 12-day trial, and that took place over nine months. I was under the impression that a 12-day trial would take 12 days, Monday through Friday, Monday through Friday, and maybe Monday and Tuesday, but it doesn’t work that way. Now in the land of COVID with the courts being different, shall we say, you just don’t know how long that will take.

Paulette Rigo:
Now, of those 3% of divorce cases that are litigated to trial, only 1% of those go to an appellate court process, and that was me. My appellate court process was another additional four years. Again, a year of preparation, both sides have the opportunity to come back and represent the case for a new an entirely different court system, different judges, different procedures, and then they take quite a bit of time to review both sides and come back with an appellant judgment. That took eight and a half years, and you’re looking at her. I’m the 1% [inaudible 00:05:31].

Russ Thornton:
Probably not the 1% that most people would aspire to be, though, in this case?

Paulette Rigo:
Yeah. Sometimes just even sharing that, which I’m happy to do to help other people understand the process, because I was as green as you can get. I had no idea. In fact, I assumed that all divorces were that way. I just did not know that there was an alternative. I did understand that mediation was possible, but again, I was told by mediators and attorneys … One of the first thing the mediator say is do you have an attorney? I was under the impression that the mediator was there to represent me. But the mediator said, “No, I’m a mediator. I’m not an attorney.”

Paulette Rigo:
Mediators are seen as neutral parties that facilitate conversations, reality check, and allow the couples to come together into form and agreement in all four categories of the decisions that need to be made regarding custody, child support, division of marital assets, and spousal support, aka alimony. I didn’t know that there was options. Of course, now I do. But yeah, it was a very long case. Even though I didn’t aspire to be the 1%, I just can’t let other people suffer. It started because I was approached by hundreds of people saying help giving me advice about it.

Paulette Rigo:
I immediately knew that there was something I needed to do other than sit back and keep my mouth shut and not help because the amount of money that was being wasted and the amount of time that people were spending arguing, bickering, dare I say fighting, or even amicably. Even divorces that are amicable are still going to have some dissertations. But the amount of heartbreak and relationships that occur during that very long procedure, it’s pretty impossible to come out of that experience unscathed.

Russ Thornton:
Well, I’m struck by, not just the amount of time that your divorce stretched out over, but as you mentioned, the financial cost, the time cost, the emotional and the mental and psychological wear and tear. I can’t even begin to wrap my head around that. It’s no wonder that that had such an impact on your life today and what you’ve chosen to spend your time and energies working on and helping to serve others, and it sounds like to help them maybe avoid some of the pitfalls that are all too often a part of divorce. With that in mind, tell us a little bit about … I know you mentioned the Better Divorce Academy and the book and that you’re a mediator and things like that. But tell us a little bit about what you actually spend your time doing.

Paulette Rigo:
Well, a lot of it has to do with when people find me. I too have a podcast. I studied journalism in college. Love to interview and bring knowledge and wisdom to any population that is seeking and has a thirst for information and knowledge. When you are about to embark on the question of divorce, let’s just say it’s one of the most important times and most popular times for people to be researching and organizing. It’s one of the thing that keeps people up at 2:00 AM and not sleeping. I swear insomnia was invented because of divorce. That’s a little bit of a divorced joke, but it is really true.

Paulette Rigo:
Now, when people come to me at the beginning and they’re contemplating divorce, that’s really where the magic happens of calming down the dissertations, the drama, the overwhelm, the fear, the emotional part of it, because there’s a lot to really take into consideration. Your thought process, feeling your feelings, deciding what you want, deciding what you need, being responsible for your part and the demise of your relationship, being responsible for yourself, understanding the deal breakers and the red flags of can this marriage be saved? I’m proud to say I’ve saved many marriages. How to prepare and protect yourself and really understanding that you can never have too much information.

Paulette Rigo:
But a lot of my time I spent as a professional is working with clients independently, one-on-one, in a confidential manner, holding their hand, walking through the fire with them, cheerleading, supporting, guiding, you name it, to be able to have them come out of the divorce journey gracefully, make better decisions, and divorce with dignity. Then on the back end when the divorce is final, that’s really where the hard work begins in the sense of recreating your whole new life. What does that look like? What do you want it to look like? Redefining yourself. Who do you want to be? Stepping off that overthinking spinning wheel, exploring your possibilities, reconnecting with yourself, dating, changing your name, feeling like a little bit more of a freer, a lot of healing work.

Paulette Rigo:
There’s feelings of abandonment, fear, stress, but a lot of it has to do with creating that new financial future and not being afraid to create your new chapter, but being empowered so that you’re set up for success. Whether people come to me at the beginning and they’re contemplating divorce, or they’re in the middle of the divorce journey and they’re just trying to get through the day, survive, or dare I say, thrive, and then on the end, “Wow. This is not what I looked for. This is not what I wanted.” But trying to really understand that there’s no failure, that you do have an opportunity to reawaken and reinvent yourself, and really reconnect to maybe parts of yourself you didn’t even know you lost.

Russ Thornton:
Correct me if I’m wrong, I would maybe venture to say that you’ve technically started this work maybe back at the beginning of your own divorce. But out of curiosity, how long have you been doing this sort of work, Paulette?

Paulette Rigo:
Well, the work started about 2008 when I started learning and studying the law. Of course, there’s 50 states right now and there’s 50 different sets of books in the US. Just for a few facts, there were 2.4 million divorces last year. That’s a divorce every 13 seconds in the United States. That’s not Canada, any of the other parts of the world, and that’s one hell of a lot of divorces, Russ, right?

Russ Thornton:
Yeah.

Paulette Rigo:
Yeah. Not to shock anybody now. 70% of divorce is filed by women, and this is, I know, a women’s conversation. I’m more for it. The average amount of time that women internally contemplate divorce before they even have the courage to utter the words, “We need to [inaudible 00:13:22], I think we need to go to therapy, something’s wrong in the marriage. Yeah, I want to divorce,” whatever that sentence is, is two years. Two years is a very long time to sit in overwhelm and fear, confusion, and really start to feel badly about the guilt, the shame and the blame, the finger pointing, instead of putting your energies into, A, fixing it if you can, B, doing your research so that you can create a better, safer, healthier, easier experience for you and your children.

Paulette Rigo:
Also, starting to think about your options, because as I’ve learned, there are five different ways to divorce. You’ve got your DIY, which means you haven’t been married long, you don’t have a lot of assets, and there probably aren’t any children. Maybe you could even annul the marriage. Then there’s mediation, and there are two forms. You can mediate adversarially, where you are represented by attorneys on both sides, or it’s a more amicable and it’s an amicable mediation process. I am a member of the Amicable Divorce Network, which of course subscribes to that. But then you also have a collaborative law model, which is a little more complicated.

Paulette Rigo:
You have two attorneys and the collaborative lawyers agreed to not go to court and collaboratively come up with discussions and an agreement. Now unfortunately, if one or two of the parties feels like it’s not going anywhere, it’s stymied, they withdraw from the process, you cannot use either of those attorneys again, and you must start at the beginning. In fact, all of the discovery has to be redone, It can end up being more costly in some cases than if you were to litigate. Then arbitration is the fourth one. This is where there’s one body, it could be an attorney, a retired judge, an arbitrator. I’ve studied arbitration and as a mediator, I also arbitrate.

Paulette Rigo:
That arbitrator makes the decision, and it is legally binding and you cannot appeal it. In some cases, that’s great and others it’s not. Then lastly, you have the litigated case, which is really what most people, the model that we think. You get an attorney, you go to court, the judge looks at both sides, makes a decision, or the judge says, “Go down the hall, sit in the conference room and you two come to a resolution. Come back in a few hours and see if you can make something work.” Of course, then eventually, if that does not work, it can go to a trial like mine did, and then lastly that appellant process where the parties say, “Yeah, we don’t like the decision. We want a new one,” and you take a roll of the dice and see what happens.

Paulette Rigo:
That is a lot of the beginning of my work of researching it back when I was going through it. I needed to learn. As far as me being a professional divorce coach and consultant, it’s only been two years full time. I did not start this work out of, my goodness, desire. This work found me. I founded, I guess it was 2018. Now I’m saying [inaudible 00:16:45] I guess I’m going on more three and a half, four years. It’s amazing how time flies, particularly during a pandemic. But that is how I started this career path, this work and really creating a new outcome that’s so needed.

Russ Thornton:
I’m curious, Paulette, how do your clients most often find you? Is that they find you online or is it word of mouth? Is it referrals from attorneys, other mediators? What’s been your experience in how people most often find you?

Paulette Rigo:
It’s a little bit of everything. I do do a lot of speaking. Last night I spoke at a law firm. I do do summits, conferences, virtual events, symposiums, workshops, webinars, you name it. I’ve done them, mostly as a guest on other people’s platforms that are looking for an expert in the field of the divorce journey, not only from a legal point of view, which I don’t give legal advice, financial point of view, overall of the journey, but more from a practical hands-on approach so that there’s the emotional, mental, psychological, spiritual, financial, legal aspect of the divorce journey. People find me through speaking, people find me through my podcast at Thriving In Chaos Project.

Paulette Rigo:
I also have a book, The Better Divorce Blueprint, which will walk you through every stage of divorce from that first little inkling of contemplation, all the way to reinventing and restarting your life over. But my website, Better Divorce Academy, is an incredible platform for people to get a lot of free resources. I was dedicated to not only creating Better Divorce Academy as a place to find me, otherwise, I would just use my name, but it has a lot of services and resources available to people so that when they decide that I really need to know my stuff, how am I going to make this a better experience?

Paulette Rigo:
When they have the resources such as a checklist and quizzes and templates, parenting plans, inspiration, lectures, worksheets, everything from tech tools to be able to understand about the budget and finance, and understanding co-parenting apps. I also team up with Fayr with Michael Daniels, who is the CEO of Fayr, and I have a discount for clients because co-parenting apps are also a great financial tool for people to use to keep track of it. Whether it be my podcast, speaking, my website, being a speaker at other events, but I have to say the one I love the most and I’m most proud of are five star reviews on Google Maps, and my clients’ satisfaction and results.

Paulette Rigo:
The fact that I try to keep them out of court, try to keep them moving forward, that the children have a better experience. They’re the first ones to say when a friend of theirs, or a colleague, a co-worker, appear a boss, dare I say a child, a parent, a family member says, “I think I want to get a divorce,” the first thing they think about is you need to speak to Paulette. Not, “Lawyer up, buddy.” I love lawyers. I have many friends that are lawyers. I admire them, respect the work they do. But usually, getting a lawyer very early in the conversation can set you up for a very long, painful, expensive result, and I try to avoid that.

Russ Thornton:
Thank you for sharing all that, and we’ll be sure to include links to your website and your podcast and your forthcoming book in the show notes for this episode so people can easily get in touch or reach out if they so desire. I’m glad you also referenced that you are proud of your client results and successes, which I want to touch on here shortly. But before we get to that, what would you say, Paulette, is the biggest challenge that you help people address or solve in the divorce process?

Russ Thornton:
Clearly, you’ve already identified there are a ton of different facets and elements that enter in divorce. Everything from financial to emotional, to legal, to psychological, relational with in-laws and children, whether they’re minors or adults. But if you had to encapsulate all that and say what’s the biggest challenge that you help people address through your work, what would you say that is?

Paulette Rigo:
That’s a great question. I don’t think I get asked that enough. I appreciate you addressing that. Well, each case is unique. Let’s face it. Every marriage is unique, every child is unique, every relationship is unique, and let’s just say every divorce is, too. But one of the things that is most important is to understand relationships and how high conflict the divorce could end up being, and how amicable it could end up being. If you’re coming to the table with two reasonable, respectful people that want a result, and what’s fair … Again, the word equitable and equal, it doesn’t always mean the same thing.

Paulette Rigo:
Most states are equitable division states, and their courts are concerned with looking at the children, a parenting plan, the division of marital assets from an equitable standpoint, not necessarily equal. Excuse me, and looking at the facts. Excuse me, the judges and the lawyers are not so concerned with the conversations and the behavior, the demeanor and the tactics and patterns that people have. They just don’t have time for that. But when it comes to divorcing, it’s very important that a client or a person that’s about to embark on this understands what high conflict personalities are like, and all of the behaviors that they have.

Paulette Rigo:
Without this being a long conversation about relationships, but things like love bombing, which is when somebody really comes on strong at the very beginning of a relationship and gaslighting. If you’re not sure with any of these terms, feel free to reach out to me. I’m happy to help you. But scapegoating, future faking, there’s mirroring, baiting, flying monkeys, trauma bonding, and triangulation. There’s a lot of tactics that people use in the divorce journey to, say, sidetrack somebody with sparkly objects and distract them, and knowing if you really are being manipulated by emotions, instead of seeing a spreadsheet, a financial statement, an evaluation. Facts are facts are facts, but when it comes to emotions and conversations, that’s where people get tripped up.

Paulette Rigo:
I spend a lot of time educating people about how to communicate with your partner so that you are lessening the conflict, not adding fuel to the fire, but engaging in conversations that are productive and resolution-oriented. One of my favorite tools that I learned from one of the people I’ve studied with, Bill Eddy. His name is E-D-D-Y, and he has an acronym called BIFF, B-I-F-F, and it stands for Brief, Informational, Friendly and Firm. That’s the way you want your conversations to go. You want your conversations to be brief, so you’re not just rambling on about everything over and over, informational, just the facts, there’s no emotion associated to it.

Paulette Rigo:
Friendly, you want to speak to your partner in such a way that you would somebody at the grocery store or an acquaintance or at a social gathering. Sometimes when we’re going through divorce, we tend to be rude and disrespectful and mean and critical, and yeah, dare I say aggressive, and that’s not going to get you a resolution. Lastly, firm. It needs to be, excuse me, a conversation in which you’re emphatic and you’re confident in your words, instead of asking permission and dancing around the topic. But coming across as factual, friendly, knowledgeable and confident in your communication skills. Communication is a problem when it comes to the divorce, and also working with professionals.

Paulette Rigo:
People are intimidated by judges, attorneys, financial. Sorry to say that. Even mortgage professionals, real estate agents, co-parenting experts, therapists. There’s a lot of professionals out there, and people tend to feel like they’re not in control. They feel that the professionals are in control. But mind you, ladies, it’s your life, it’s your money, it’s your future, it’s your divorce, it’s time you hold the steering wheel and take control of it. Because if you don’t, the law will.

Russ Thornton:
I’m actually glad to hear you say that and close on that thought out. Something that’s been a recurring undercurrent through these episodes that I’ve been doing with folks like yourself, and that I want to really highlight is that while some of these things, especially in the midst of divorce or a major life transition, might be unfamiliar to you because maybe your spouse or partner handled them in the past, whether that’s financial or real estate or some of the other examples that Paulette just gave, even though they’re unfamiliar, does not mean you’re not capable.

Russ Thornton:
I talk to women all the time that feel intimidated about financial matters or legal matters, whatever the case may be, and don’t accept lack of familiarity for lack of confidence. I find all the time that women are surprisingly resilient and capable, but they oftentimes don’t give themselves enough credit or have enough belief in their abilities. I just wanted to highlight that in the wake of what you’re saying, Paulette. I think that women in particular often sell themselves short in terms of what they’re actually capable of doing.

Paulette Rigo:
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. Creating your financial future is your responsibility. I was the wife that showed an interest to some level about money, taxes, insurance, mortgage, credit cards, debt, liabilities, assets. But after a point, once you have children and you are involved in your own business or life, it’s not unusual for the wife or the husband. I don’t mean to be sexist here. But history has it the wife typically hands off that duty. The paying of the bills and how much we can afford for a vacation and tax deductions and receipts and the state planning wills, health care proxies, right? You name it. But the more you feel that …

Paulette Rigo:
Well, that may have been the way it was in the past, but now it’s my turn to step up to the plate, be responsible for my decisions and my choices, and make sure that I’m securing and updating my accounts, knowing the passwords and the logins, being aware of the details. Where is the money? How do you access it? Just really educating yourself about the nuances of insurance policies and just everything, and even deciding to make a decision about starting your own credit card. Those might seem like very simple, petty things, but, Russ, they’re so important. For women that are new to that world, having your own credit score, your own credit card account, and understanding that it is your right to have an access that information and starting to step up to the plate and take responsibility for it and getting involved.

Russ Thornton:
I think, too, women will often find that empowering to feel like they’re beginning to stand on their own two feet, build their own identity, both financial and otherwise. While it may seem daunting, overwhelming or challenging, I think there’s really some great opportunities hidden in there to assert yourself, take control, take some empowerment from that process as well. I agree. Even small things … I shouldn’t say small because it’s relative to different people, but rather mundane things, whether it’s opening your own checking account or establishing a credit card, or learning how to check your credit score, like the examples you just gave, Paulette, I think are tremendous opportunities for you to take a positive step forward and start claiming your own identity around your finances, and frankly, around your whole life. I think those are all great points.

Paulette Rigo:
Not only is it empowering, Russ, but it’s also inspiring to see somebody want that and to look at life through a whole new set of lenses. Another trend I’m seeing is women who are either looking for a new job position, striving for that dream job, starting a career of their own, or looking for a position that matches their current skills better because they’re not necessarily looking to retire and play golf and not do anything else. Women are starting businesses more than anyone. It is inspiring to see that. There are so many parts of life, post divorce, that are exciting.

Paulette Rigo:
Whether you ever thought of writing a book, becoming an entrepreneur, assessing your talents and really creating more of an action plan, having your values and goals and your potentials maximized, and understanding that it is your right to feel job and life satisfaction, and maybe even ensuring a career success. It is never too early and never too late to start understanding your finances and your opportunity to make money. Money is a topic that’s difficult to talk about, sometimes for people. There’s a lot of emotion attached to it, energy. The way your parents treated money, the way your spouse treated money.

Paulette Rigo:
But when you’re newly divorced, or going through it and you’re starting to get your wings, it is your opportunity to look at it as, well, this isn’t what I looked for, this isn’t necessarily what I wanted, but it is now an incredible chance for me to go forward with my head held high, shoulders back, spine tall, and feel proud of yourself that you were able to divorce with dignity, create a new life that is more fulfilling. Whether that’s a career, financial freedom, traveling, dating, getting remarried, who knows? You’ll get there when you get there. But knowing you have the professionals and the support system and the knowledge and the skills to get you through it, that’s what makes the difference.

Russ Thornton:
I love the fact that you added the word inspiring or inspirational alongside empowerment, and I think that’s a great transition into my next question, which is, can you share maybe a favorite client success story that you’ve experienced over the last few years, working with someone in some stage or stages of the divorce process?

Paulette Rigo:
It would be so hard to pick. I have a few, without naming names. But there’s a general feeling that young mothers that have a boatload of children that are probably in their early 30s, maybe the kids are four, six, eight, 10, something there, and they are feeling like a failure. They’re young, they’re still healthy, usually. They’re usually somewhat educated. Some of them left their careers to become a wife and a mother. Once that first baby comes, the second baby comes, and the third baby comes, they feel like they’re sad and they just don’t know where to turn. But there’s this light bulb goes on. There’s a little bit of a metamorphosis.

Paulette Rigo:
It’s like just when the caterpillar thought the world was coming to an end, she became a butterfly. I see one client, she went back, she’s in nursing school now, she’s always wanted to be in the ER, the kids are thriving, she managed to get her credit score up, refinance her home, and see that being a divorced woman at the age of 32 with three little kids isn’t a failure, but it’s a whole new start. It’s so common to see women just take what they get, feel downtroddent and lose hope, and that’s very inspiring to see that younger woman that has done that. I have a client I’m thinking of right now that is in medical school. In nursing school, excuse me, doing that.

Paulette Rigo:
That was a long time coming. She at first was practicing real estate, and we did a lot of work and it was really nursing that she wanted to get involved in. Then another favorite client comes to mind, where she’s probably in the midst of a very long legal battle. It’s been about a year in it. I could see it going maybe another year or two, based on the amount of family involvement, business entities, trust funds, stepchildren, grandchildren, and just the way that some documents were worded, it leaves in a very open door to complicated legal situations. But the fact that she is persevering and being patient and persistent, without wanting to throw in the towel, and retaliate, it’s very easy to engage in text warfare when you just pick up the phone and start texting.

Paulette Rigo:
You don’t realize that all of that is admissible in court. Holding that space for you to understand that you don’t know what the outcome’s going to be, but I’m worth hanging in there and being patient and not overreacting. When you surrender in some ways and you just allow the power of grace to work its magic by just surrendering to the process, letting go of the outcome. Yeah, we don’t know what the outcome of it is going to be because it’s dependent on your partner, and the circumstances and the law, and the children and a judge and the way your attorneys conversations manifest. We want that judgment, we want that answer, we want that …

Paulette Rigo:
My Charlie and the Chocolate Factory quote is, “I want an oompa loompa now. Dammit.” We have all of a little bit of verruca in us when you’re going through divorce. It’s like, why is this taking so long? When you’re going through divorce, and even if you mediate and it’s amicable, and it takes three to four months, which it will, that feels like three to four years. It feels like it’s dragging on, and it is. Divorce isn’t something that you sit down at the kitchen table, have a conversation, “Hey, the marriage isn’t working.” Even couples that DIY it have to go down to the courthouse. There’s paperwork you have to fill out, there are decisions that have to be made.

Paulette Rigo:
It has to be signed off, and then you have to wait 60 days for it to become legal. It is a legal binding contract, and people don’t realize that divorce success looks like how did you respond? How did you manage to get through the process with resiliency? If you’re with my first client and you’re young and you got little kids, versus my second client I just mentioned that is in her 60s and they were married 38 years, very different scenarios, but allowing them to just find the perseverance and the resiliency in themselves to get through it so that they can look back and have no regret and feel confident in their ability to stay calm through the journey is a such a joy and a success for me.

Russ Thornton:
Thanks for sharing both of those stories. I’m particularly interested in the latter story of the woman that’s in her 60s. Most of my focus is retirement planning for women and their families, whether they’re divorced or happily married, and they’re typically in their 50s, 60s, or maybe even early 70s. You and I can probably talk for an entire hour just about the phenomenon of gray divorce and all of the considerations and unique decisions that come into play for a woman that’s in her 50s, 60s, or older that’s dealing with divorce after having been married for decades.

Russ Thornton:
Typically, children are older, out of the house, and so children are as much a concern, but like you mentioned in that example, there’s often, not always, but often more complexity around the financial decisions and how to unwind that. Maybe you don’t have minor children, but you may have grandchildren, you may have other relationships that can really come under the microscope and that can really be strained. I think it’s important to have someone like yourself to bring some objective guidance and a calming voice to someone during that process. But before we move on, just curious, in your experience, Paulette, are you seeing more and more women that find you or referred to you that are older, or is it still a pretty healthy mix across the age ranges?

Paulette Rigo:
Well, gray divorce seems to be more prevalent because Millennials are not getting married, or as early. Millennials, people between say 25 and 38, I think it is, have delayed marriage into their 30s or mid 30s. Some even in their 40s. Right? They’re coming up on that question. Because of that, that people say they’re not getting divorces much, well, it’s pretty hard to get divorced if you don’t get married. They’re still having children and they don’t see that as different. But in the eyes of the law, if you cohabitate and you have children together, after a period of time, you are considered married.

Paulette Rigo:
Even having children if you split up and the breakup determines where the children will live, parenting time, who pays for what, the courts will still get involved in that. Be careful what you wish for. That’s an interesting phenomenon. But yes, yes, yes, gray divorce over the age of 50 and silver divorce over the age of 62 is growing, unfortunately, a lot. I think it’s because men feel that their wife has either gained new knowledge, skills, desires, the children are grown, they are now looking to have a career, travel, and they have different interests and goals and values and desires than they did when they were married, say in their 20s.

Paulette Rigo:
They feel very different. We evolve as people, hopefully, and we don’t stay stagnant. That doesn’t mean that marriages can’t survive that. Many healthy ones do. But typically, when people are in their 50s, empty nest syndrome, the kids go off to college and they start reevaluating their marriage, their relationships, their goals, their financial success, their careers, they’re not always congruent. Sometimes the husband has one way of looking at things, the wife has another, and this can lead to some dissatisfaction in the marriage. Women typically are not willing to just stay together for the children anymore once the children aren’t there. That can be a reason for it.

Paulette Rigo:
Of course, there’s the phenomenon of the walkaway wife and the runaway husband, which are books and some of your listeners may be versed in those, but there is that phenomenon of, well, if there’s an affair or someone else, if the marriage is destined to end, many marriages are strong enough to overcome those hurdles. Some of them are not. In fact, I do believe that infidelity is the cause of divorce. It can be one of the reasons that it comes to the conversation, but rarely is just, I hate to put just in air quotes, infidelity, the one and only reason that a marriage is ending. It tends to be one of the reasons, but not the reason.

Paulette Rigo:
In fact, I see it as a symptom of a marriage that is perhaps not as healthy, communicative, cohesive and really congruent as it should be. But the 62 and over can be really challenging because now you’re dealing with Social Security, pensions. The longer you’re married, well, the more complicated it gets. Businesses, several properties. There’s just more there, more history, more habituation and imprints and memories, more expectations and more assets, more people. The more you throw in that pot and stir it up, well, it can be messier than if you’re getting married after five to eight years with a baby and you have an apartment and two bicycles, and you’re fighting over a pair of jeans and a toothbrush.

Paulette Rigo:
I know I just simplified that one. But anybody who is embarking on a divorce journey older in life and is embarking on the conversation of retirement, whether they’re widowed, divorced, or happily married, it’s a conversation that you need to have, get the right professionals involved in, and really know every penny where it is and your tax ramifications, life insurance policies, home equity conversion, mortgage purchases, you name it. I’ve seen so many tools be able to free up money to help older people really invest wisely, especially now the stock market is just a little bit of a … Well, it’s a bit volatile, right? Real estate being the way it is, it’s important that you have the correct professional guidance like yourself. It’s scary to go alone.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. [inaudible 00:46:45] Clearly, I’m a little biased, but I agree and I think that’s well said, and arguably the same can be said of a view in the work that you do and the help that you provide people that are dealing with divorce in its various forms and stages. Paulette, what would you say has surprised you most about your work in the divorce arena?

Paulette Rigo:
The reaction I get when people ask me what I do. Everyone says … Well, not everyone. They fall into two categories. One is where were you when I needed you a year ago, five years ago, two years ago? I needed someone like you when I went through my divorce because I was exactly those things, confused, overwhelmed, scared, fearful, stressed, angry. All those things. Where were you? The next thing is the relationships that I form with other people in the profession. It’s not only the obvious one with attorneys, but I really have very cohesive and deep relationships with other professionals in this world.

Paulette Rigo:
I see it as almost a family of professionals looking to serve the couple that is embarking on ending a marriage. It used to be seen as why would you want to share numbers, and isn’t that taking business away from you? I say, “Hell no.” I am so proud to be a member of many different organizations. Amicable Divorce Network, Fairway Divorce Solutions, Certified Divorce Coach, National Association of Divorce Professionals, [inaudible 00:48:41] Divorceify, DivorceTown. There’s so many. The vetting process is intense and the training is real. It’s just a matter of meeting people that I know if I have a client … Just this morning, I had a client say, “I need that private investigator you told me about.”

Paulette Rigo:
I just roll in my little Rolodex, reach out, make the connection. Another client is needing a forensic accountant. Who do you recommend? I didn’t even know these professionals existed before my own journey, and now professionally, I rely on them. I don’t just get through this consulting coaching mediation journey with a couple and with private clients by myself. I rely on everybody in my toolbox and my resources because if I don’t know the answer, Russ, I know someone that does and that’s really important. Anytime you meet a professional that seems to know it all, and don’t you worry, I got you, it’s probably a red flag. It’s important to know all of the experts in different worlds and everybody has their lane of expertise.

Paulette Rigo:
I didn’t know that. There’s a movie called Divorce Corp. Divorce is a multi-billion billion dollar industry, and that really bothers me. I don’t necessarily think I can change that for the world, but I do see a shift and the conversation changing. I do see a desire for more judges and legal professionals to realize that it is not always in the best interest for someone to go it alone and just rely on one expert. It also leads to a lot of feeling isolated and abandoned, which just leads to a lot more mental health issues. Anytime somebody feels supported, acknowledged and heard, it’s going to be a better outcome.

Russ Thornton:
Well, it sounds like you and I see absolutely eye to eye on part of what you said, which is I’m very capable and confident about what I do and how I can help people, but I also know what I don’t know. I agree that it’s important to bring in other complimentary professionals or service providers to make sure that clients are getting the expertise and guidance that they need when they need it. I think that’s maybe one of the reasons why you and I could probably talk for another couple of hours. But as we start to wrap up the conversation today, being that this is Women’s Retirement Radio, we’d like to think about and cover perspectives on retirement. What comes to mind for you personally when you think of the word retirement, Paulette?

Paulette Rigo:
Well, my grandmother retired when she was 80, my mother retired at 90. I come from a long line of successful female entrepreneurs. But I know that that’s not always the norm. Do I want to be that person? Probably not. I look forward to a well thought out, methodically planned and rock solid, dare I say, plan, financially so that I can be a little bit more free. I’m not at an age where I’m ready to retire by any means, but I am planning strategically. Retirement feels exciting to me. I see it as an adventure. I adore traveling, I love new people. I feel a little bit selfish and lucky in the sense that I can make my own schedule, I can take time off if I want.

Paulette Rigo:
Am I still accountable for my clients? Yes. They’ll tell you I’m the first to respond. But there’s something different about having that nine-to-five live, dare I say, versus one of a little bit more of liberation and feeling unencumbered, feeling a little freer to be your own person and walk your walk and talk your talk and not feel like you’re tied down to a corporation or a business or anything, and just feeling freer. But I just want to make sure to that women in general feel that if you’re feeling some trepidation about retirement and you’re not planning for it, it’s really important that you keep a money journal for 60 days to identify your relationship with money.

Paulette Rigo:
The questions you ask yourself are do you use money or does money use you? Do you take money for granted? Do you hoard money? Are you stingy or cheap with it? Do you spend it needlessly or to the point of irresponsibility? Are you in debt? Then one of the reasons people cannot go into retirement is because they’re laden with that debt. How do you feel about being in debt? Do you have a financial advisory expert and that you trust and speak to regularly? The answer should be yes, yes. Do people owe you money or do you owe people money? Just having a better relationship with money is going to lead to having a better relationship with retirement.

Russ Thornton:
Well said.

Paulette Rigo:
Thank you.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. Listen, Paulette, there’s some other things I want to ask you, but in the interest of time and I know how busy you are and you got other things to work on, we’ll have to regroup and do a second, part two [crosstalk 00:54:36]

Paulette Rigo:
Anytime. Part two, coming your way.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. As we wrap up, yeah, if there were … We’ve covered a lot, and thank you again for your time and sharing with us. If there were one thing our listeners could take away from our conversation today, what would you want that one thing to be?

Paulette Rigo:
Be excited about your future, be grateful for every moment, every day, every breath, live consciously, every meal you prepare. We take so much for granted. A full refrigerator, clean running water, a long hot shower, and a soft, warm bed. Just be grateful and see your future as an opportunity to paint a canvas however you want it to be.

Russ Thornton:
I can’t think of a more beautiful optimistic way to close out this conversation. Thanks for that. As I mentioned, we’re going to share links to your podcast and your book and your Better Divorce Academy, your LinkedIn profile and things like that in the show notes. But if people want to reach out to you or want to learn more, Paulette, what’s the best way for them to get in touch or where’s the best place for them to go to learn more about who you are and what you do?

Paulette Rigo:
Well, learning about me is easy. Www.betterdivorceacademy.com. If you, a loved one, a friend, anyone is struggling all things divorce, it’s an easy place to find me, contact me, learn a lot of information. But I’m very free with my phone number. Text me, 781-626-0000, and just say, “I learned about you. I need help. Can we get on a call?” The answer is absolutely yes. I’ll grab my schedule, make it a point and reach out. I’d love to help. It is literally my life’s purpose to change the outcome and to empower women and inspire them to make their marriage healthy, successful. I’m happily remarried. I do believe in marriage. I’m not pro divorce, I’m not pro litigation. I’m just proactive. That’s the best way to learn about me, and get in touch. Don’t be shy. I’m here.

Russ Thornton:
Thanks, Paulette. Yeah, we’ll be sure to include … If you’re okay with it, we’ll include your phone number in the show notes as well-

Paulette Rigo:
Yeah, please do.

Russ Thornton:
… and encourage people to reach out. This has been such a fun conversation. I know we were covering some pretty heavy, weighty topics around divorce. But I do like that you bring a theme of optimism and gratefulness and gratitude to your work and to your message, which I think it’s just wonderful.

Paulette Rigo:
Well, life is full of enough doom and gloom. It’s [crosstalk 00:57:36] There is opportunity in everything, even though we don’t see it at the moment.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. Well, thank you again, Paulette, and thank you to each of you out there listening again. This is Russ with Women’s Retirement Radio, and we look forward to catching up with you on our next episode.

Thanks for reading. While you’re here, be sure to sign up for my weekly email newsletter where I share tips, advice, and stories about the intersection of money and our lives. Just click here to join the community.

Russ Thornton
Russ Thornton
Hi there! I'm Russ, and I help women in their 50s and 60s achieve and maintain their desired lifestyle leading up to and throughout their retirement years. Imagine being able to look forward to a comfortable and confident financial future...
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