Divorcing women can 'WIN' with teamwork

Divorce can prove a difficult transition for many women. Aside from the emotional toll divorce can take, there's practicalities like finances, custody and property to consider. That's where the Women's Independence Network can help.

WIN was created to offer education, support and guidance to women in transition. At its Second Saturday Workshop - held the second Saturday of every month in Old Saybrook - attendees have the opportunity to connect with professionals in the community who are volunteering to help guide them through the legal, emotional and financial aspects of divorce.

"There's nothing like this in Connecticut," says Julie McNulty of Essex, the program's financial advisor and coordinator of the Second Saturday Divorce Workshops. "There may be one-time workshops here and there and women's support groups, but nothing ongoing, led by six professional women."

McNulty explains that David Wood, president of Gateway Financial Partners, which is headquartered in Connecticut, founded the Women's Independence Network.

"He was divorced himself and thought it was a great idea," McNulty says. "So many women are getting divorced, so many women he talked to felt their soon-to-be or ex-husbands had control over the finances, generally as the breadwinners, and for women, this is a very vulnerable time."

And so, she says, "We got together groups of women who are passionate about helping other women and launched our own workshops and created WIN in Connecticut."

WIN is now in Old Saybrook and East Hartford. Three other states also offer WIN programs. Organizers plan to continue to expand WIN throughout the country and are in the process of filing for nonprofit status.

Shoreline WIN is made up of McNulty, Elizabeth Hale of Westbrook (therapist), Lovisa Johnsson of Westbrook (mortgage lender/budget counselor), Laura Grom of Guilford (life coach), Victoria Lanier of Old Lyme (matrimonial attorney) and MaryBeth Joyce of Clinton (real estate broker).

McNulty notes that five of the six women have been divorced themselves.

"We're not in our 20s, most of us have been through some kind of vulnerable period or transition in our lives."

WIN's philosophy is "There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or to accept the responsibility for changing them."

"Our focus is truly to provide a resource, a place where women can go and feel more optimistic about their future," McNulty says. "Our mantra is that they need to build a team. Usually they'll seek the advice of a divorce attorney but they need all these other resources. We provide a venue where they can come and get all the information they might need initially. If it grows from there, if we can help them on a long-term basis, then it's a mutually beneficial relationship. If they solve their problems quickly, that's great, too."

There is a cost for the workshop, but it goes toward running the program, McNulty says.

"A lot of attorneys will charge between $300 and $400 for a consultation, and we charge $45 for the three-hour workshops. We use the money to rent (the space), provide refreshments, resource packets, marketing materials, etc.," she says.

In dealing with the financial aspects of a divorce, McNulty points out that all divorce situations entail the division of finances, and if there is one tip she can give it's to get financial paperwork in order as soon as possible.

"The number one thing anyone needs to do is prepare, prepare, prepare," she stresses. "Get every type of document they can: tax returns, wills, trusts, financial, banking and credit card statements.

"Typically, a woman's standard of living drops if she's not the breadwinner and needs to take care of the kids," she adds. "Studies show that in the first year after divorce, the wife's standard of living may drop almost 27 percent."

EMOTIONAL TOLL

Elizabeth Hale, WIN's therapist, offers the following tips to help divorcing women arrive at the best possible solutions for themselves and their children:

1. Expect and accept the full range of emotions that you and your children will experience. Even the most amicable divorce can bring out feelings of anger, hurt, sadness, confusion, frustration and resentment.

2. Maintain and nurture your relationship with your children.

3. Develop a daily gratitude practice. Cultivating gratitude has been shown to increase well-being and decrease depression and anxiety.

4. Maintain a sense of personal power by having realistic goals for yourself and others. In other words, know what you have control over and what you do not when creating a plan for your future.

5. Exercise every day. Research has shown that exercise can be as effective as antidepressants for people who are feeling down or even clinically depressed.

6. Develop mindfulness. Mindfulness reduces stress and clears your head. Meditation, yoga and daily activities can be performed with mindfulness by keeping your attention focused on the present moment.

7. Fight the urge to isolate. Push yourself to be with people. Reach out to friends and relatives.

8. Keep a journal. Writing can be incredibly healing.

Hale believes the WIN-Second Saturday Workshop "is a valuable opportunity for women to survey the types of professional help available to them.

"The workshop also encourages women and shows them how to fit everyone together to support them in the beginning of their new stage of life," she says.

Editor's note: This version of Amy Barry's article on the shoreline-area WIN group includes updates on where the group meets and the group's contact number. These details changed after press time.

IF YOU GO

What: Women's Independence Network Second Saturday Workshop

When: Saturday, April 12, 9 a.m. to noon

Where: Saybrook Point Pavilion, 150 College St., Old Saybrook. Starting in May, the group will meet at the Mercy Center, 167 Neck Road, Madison.

Cost: $45

Info: To register, call (855) 200-4946. For more information, visit www.allaboutwin.com.

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