FULL TRANSCRIPT – Season 2, Episode 67
Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS Podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it! We’re Jessica and T.H.
T.H.: Today we would like to introduce you all to Deb Perullo. She’s the founder of Divorce with Deb. I found her online through an amazing support group that she created, and we’ve connected in this way now. She specializes in mediation and divorce coaching. So welcome to the podcast today, Deb.
Deb: Yes, thank you Jessica and T.H. Thank you for having me. It’s wonderful what you’re doing.
T.H.: Thank you. Let’s start off with what is a divorce coach.
Deb: A divorce coach, and if I can give you a little background on it, I feel like I created this for myself for something to do, because just like both of you, I’ve also experienced divorce since about six or seven years ago. When I was going through the divorce, I found that there was nowhere to go for information or just practical information. I found that when you asked family or friends or people who had been divorced, everyone wanted to tell you to do a different thing or quickly go get an attorney.
Jessica: Everyone’s got an opinion.
Deb: Everyone has an opinion. What I tell my clients is, as much as that’s welcomed and heartfelt and they’re coming from a good place, it’s not usually what you should be listening to. I found myself back in the day, so for $350-$500 an hour, I could call my attorney and I’d be on the phone for an hour, and I’d hang up and I’d say, I don’t really know more than what I knew when I called $500 ago. I just thought after I came through it all and I made all the mistakes and I spent all the money, that there needed to be a level, a plane that existed within the legal system and family law that was more of a paraprofessional, somewhere that women, I mainly work with women, I do have some male clients, but that they could go to have real steadfast information. I think I’ve said to you both that I say I’m like the best girlfriend, but with a lot of information, a lot of knowledge, a lot of practical knowledge, and a lot of tips and different things that are going to help save not just money but your sanity.
Jessica: So are you sort of like the in-between helping to navigate people as they work their way through?
Deb: Yeah, I do that. I’m also a paralegal so I have a background with paralegal – I have an extensive background in finance and investment and retirement planning and wealth strategies. I kind of pull from all my backgrounds to help someone. A divorce coach can help somebody who is considering contemplating divorce, who’s in the midst of a divorce, and even post-divorce, because oftentimes after divorce, there are issues like custody, contempt, or just even some emotional pieces.
T.H.: That’s what I was going to say. At the end when everybody leaves you and you’re excited for a minute, and then you have like a holy shit moment, right? Nobody’s here to support me anymore.
Deb: Yeah, and just what do I do next? Who do I listen to? Sometimes the call might be, look, I’m hearing this. Can you give me your thoughts on that? I never tell people like you need to do this, but I’ll say here’s what other people have done that has worked really well. What feels good to you?
Jessica: Tell us a little bit about how would someone even know that someone like you exists to be able to help them figure it out.
Deb: I get people all the time who say, I never even knew this was something that existed. I think it’s a real niche. I don’t think there are a lot of – there are life coaches and there are – but I think like in your introduction, we’ve both lived it when you were talking about you and T.H., and that’s so important because even attorneys that haven’t lived it, they’re coming from a whole different perspective, and they’re not really catering to the client’s needs except for the business aspect. There’s the emotional piece of divorce, there’s the business piece of divorce, and both of those need to be addressed. To get back to your question, I have people that find me through the support group, so they know that I do divorce coaching. Also, just even locally, I made a presence for myself here. I’m in the Annapolis, Maryland area, but I do have clients all over the country. Word of mouth has just – I get so many people like you helped my sister, you helped one of my brother’s friends, so it’s just been that so far.
Jessica: If someone is contemplating divorce and they reach out to you, what does that look like? What does that sound like? Where are you with helping them in that area, trying to decide if that’s something they want to move forward with?
Deb: I do get those calls all the time, ‘I’m considering”. The first thing I say to people is I’m a divorce coach; I’m not a divorce advocate. I’m not somebody who is ‘you need to be divorced’. My thing is, let’s talk about your situation, and let’s see where you’re at. I really encourage people, unless it’s an abusive situation, to try everything that they can to save their marriage just for their own peace of mind so that if they decide to separate and divorce, they’re comfortable with the fact that they did do everything. They did try to go to marriage counseling, they did try whatever it is that would be a way to keep the marriage together. We just talk through that, and oftentimes, the talking piece will get someone to where they say you know what, I am ready to take the next step. Can you help me with that?
Jessica: It’s so interesting that you say that. That’s such an important thing for people to know that it doesn’t mean you’re a divorce advocate. I remember when things were coming to a head with my first husband, and we’d found out about the affair. I was like I’m fucking out of here. My sister who had been divorced before and who also knew him, she knew him at college before even I did, was actually the voice in my head saying it’s fine if you want to leave, but do yourself a favor and go to marriage counseling since he’s asking you because you don’t want to be the one that looks back years later and says I should have X, Y, or Z, or whatever. It is really important that people hear that it’s okay if you decide that you want to end up leaving, but you really should do everything you can just so that you feel comfortable that you’ve exhausted your options.
T.H.: I would also say for me, I probably stayed longer than – I definitely stayed longer than anybody else thought I should have. But I have my aunt who told me that I should leave when I feel no guilt. I cannot leave and take any guilt with me, so what both of you guys are saying. You have to leave when you’re ready, assuming it’s not an abusive relationship. For the outside world and other people telling you, you should do this, you should do that, this is happening, and that’s happening, you have to feel it in your gut that it’s the right time. That’s the right time for you regardless of how long it takes.
Deb: Another piece of advice, too, is when you have everyone telling you, you need to do this, and you need to do that, you’re going to get the whole spectrum of what you need to be doing. When people start working with me, I give them words to use with family and friends so they’re not offensive in saying, look, I’m working with somebody on this, I really appreciate your opinion, but I’m trying to stay focused. That’s not really helpful right now, but thank you.
Jessica: You know what’s funny? I feel like other than divorce, the only other time that strangers and everybody else that you’ve ever come into contact with has an opinion is when you’re pregnant. Everyone has it, right? Whether you should nurse, how you should raise your kids, how you should –
T.H.: Which kid you’re having. They’re sure it’s a boy, they’re sure it’s a girl.
Deb: They don’t mind expressing –
Jessica: Butting into your business!
T.H.: Touching your belly!
Deb: Right. It’s so offensive.
Jessica: So Deb, for someone who comes to you who has decided already or you’ve helped them get to a place of clarity, where they decide I’m going to progress and I’m going to move through divorce, one of the things that you had said to T.H. and I earlier was people should come to you before they even find their lawyer.
Jessica: Yeah. Tell us about that, because how would someone even know that that’s a thing?
Deb: That I’m here, and not to go to a lawyer? [That they should come to you first] Because the first thing everybody wants to do is run and get a lawyer. The one thing I have to say about that is the earlier you introduce an attorney to your case, the more expensive your divorce is going to be. Attorneys have their place, and I would never say that they don’t, but they’re not always necessary. One could get divorced simply through working with a coach, or not even with a coach. If they’re fairly amicable and they both want to be divorced, you could go through mediation. It’s so much less expensive and you don’t need an attorney, maybe for an hour of time, in the end, to look over the memorandum of understanding, which becomes a marital separation agreement, to have an attorney look at it from your best interest. Each of you gets a different attorney and has it looked at and you pay an hour of time. You avoid these tens of thousands of dollars, especially, because there are a lot of states that have a waiting period. So say my client says now I’m going to go forward. Well, it might be a year before you can even file the complaint for divorce. There’s really nothing for an attorney to do in that year. If you hire them right away, you’re going to pay them for a year every time they talk to the other side, or every time you call. It’s just a waste of money.
Jessica: So approximately, because as you said, there might be other divorce coaches in other places, what’s the ballpark cost of getting a divorce coach?
Deb: The way I structure my fees is because I didn’t like the kind of fee structure that attorneys have where there’s a retainer and then they bill in six-minute increments, and every time you email and every time you call. I did something a little bit different where I don’t take a retainer. You pay me one hour at a time, and I’m $90 an hour. I try to stay well below the cost of an attorney. You pay as you go. If you need me, today we talk for an hour, and I give you some actionable steps. That’s pretty much the way I operate. I like you to leave the call with homework and something to do. The next time we talk could be three weeks, it could be a month, or it could be tomorrow. It’s just kind of pay-as-you-go, and when you no longer feel the need for my services, we’re done.
T.H.: So you’re actually better than even a therapist at the beginning for some people because you know the process. It sounds like you are, I forgot the term you used on your website, but you’re a friend and you’re also an advocate and you’re also a coach.
Jessica: She’s an ExExpert!
T.H.: Right, and a real-life expert. You’ve got it all going on here. I guess the real thing is we’ve got to get the word out.
Deb: We have to get the word out. There is still a place for therapists too. When I have someone who can’t break out of the cycle of ‘I don’t know what to do’, then I say I think you need to go to a therapist to resolve that. Because working with me, we’re going to go forward in whatever way is best suited for you. If someone’s really stuck, then I also recommend that they do go see a therapist. But there are a lot of people I think that go to a therapist when they really need someone like me.
Jessica: So for someone who now has worked their way through the process, they’ve filed the papers, they’re either waiting or the papers have already been processed, now what kind of support can they get from you?
Deb: So then what I do is I talk to them about what is it going to look like because that’s kind of scary. It’s like I’ve filed, but now what happens? I give the overall picture. The next step is a scheduling conference, the next step is a settlement conference, and these are going to look like this. Then all the way through, the courts are trying to get the parties to settle, even on the courthouse steps if you have a date for trial. Then if you still don’t settle, you go to litigation. We talk about what that whole bit looks like and we really talk about what would a settlement look like for you? What would you be comfortable with? What’s your hard no? Like, you’re not going to accept. We talk about being flexible and negotiating and the fact that 5% of divorces litigate. They’re usually highly contentious, but people who settle usually end up back in court less. They’re both happier with the outcome than if you went to court. Because if you go to court, a lot of times what the judge orders, both people are unhappy, and then they keep trying to go back to court to get their day in court.
Jessica: How closely are you helping people to work with their lawyers or mediators? Are you part of that discussion? If you’ve already spoken to your clients about where are you with this, what would make you happy, and what do you think in your heart of hearts and in your gut that you can actually accept, are you helping to translate that to their team?
Deb: Yes, I can, especially if they want me to. I’ve even locally gone to court with people. In court, their attorney will be there, but I’m a voice for them because sometimes when you’re overwhelmed, you have a hard time putting into what you’re trying to ask your attorney. Attorneys have a hard time not speaking in legalese, so almost like a translator; I can act as a translator. If they do have an attorney too, I help them prepare their trial binders, like organize all their documents into binders in a way that is accessible not only for them but for their attorneys. Then there are a lot of people who are pro se, they represent themselves through a divorce, and I help and encourage them to do that. So yeah, it just depends. But I’ll work with, I think we spoke about this, I love the certified divorce financial analyst, so anyone with assets, I say that’s who you see before a lawyer.
T.H.: How do the lawyers respond to you being there and being that extra voice for their clients?
Jessica: Good question.
T.H.: Have they ever felt threatened or like, listen to me, don’t listen to her? She’s a coach. I’m your lawyer. Do they ever pull that power trip on you?
Deb: Sometimes, but what I do is I say then don’t listen to me. You be your own advocate, use your voice with your attorney because there are a lot of people that are, oh I can’t say that. What if my attorney gets mad at me?
Jessica: But you really are an advocate?
Deb: Yeah, I’m an advocate, but I want them to advocate for themselves too. If the attorney says don’t listen to me, I would question why wouldn’t you want them to listen to me?
T.H.: Are you saying it threatens them?
Deb: Yeah. I feel like we’re both looking out for the client’s best interest, right? Don’t we both want her to come out of this in a fair and equitable way? Most attorneys that I work with, they’ll call me and they’ll refer clients to me because I do stuff. Quite honestly, they’ll say, I don’t want them to come in and talk to me about how they’re feeling. They just want to process the paperwork, they want to go to court, and they want to do the things that lawyers do. So they’re sort of happy to be like, okay, you deal with all that with her. Then I can also help them because sometimes they say, I’m spinning my wheels with this client, this is what I need and she’s not getting it to me. Can you help? Then I can do that.
Jessica: Through the process, some of the conversations that T.H. and I have had with some other people include things like high conflict custody cases and just different kinds of divorce and forensic accountants and the different types of people that someone may need on their team as they go through a divorce. So are you offering those resources and references to people to be able to help them find the right experts that they might need as part of their process?
Deb: Yes, definitely. I can help them find a mediator, an attorney, a CDFA, or a forensic accountant. We’ll talk about that too because sometimes a forensic accountant is going to cost more than what they’re going to uncover and you would get. A realtor – I’ll give them interview questions. I’ll tell them how many to interview and help them to weed out the team because you do truly need a team.
Jessica: Yeah, it takes a village.
Deb: It takes a village.
T.H.: It takes a village, but it’s an expensive village.
Deb: It’s an expensive village.
T.H.: You have to make sure your money is spent well and I think that the real value that you’re offering is that you are their person.
Deb: Yeah, I’m kind of the –
T.H.: The person who gets it on all ends, finance, and being right up there with kids. You’ve been through it and you have your own children. You’re a little bit like us in that we’re trying to bring the experts and the real-life experts together to offer the information. You are like our bundle of everything.
Jessica: All wrapped up in one.
Deb: I wish I had me when I was going through a divorce.
Jessica: Well, that’s really the whole point of why T.H. and I wanted to talk to you. We keep telling everyone we feel so lucky and fortunate that we had each other, but the truth is if we didn’t, you’re exactly what we would have wanted and needed.
Deb: Right. Yeah. I just think, also T.H., your point about the expense. Of course, we’d all love every professional in our corner, but it could get extremely expensive. I can kind of say when to pull in the experts that you need, when and if you do so that your team is not only a team, but they’re actually really efficient at getting you to where you need to be with your divorce and cost-effective.
T.H.: Right. That’s so important because you can get suckered in and just all of a sudden you turn around one day and you’re like, how the hell did I get here?
Deb: Yeah and where did all my money go?
Jessica: So Deb, we have a million more questions that we could ask you, but we’re going to definitely have to have you back to go through more because this whole topic is so interesting. We really feel strongly this is really a resource that more people need to know about. For people who want to reach out to you directly, what’s the best way for them to find you?
Deb: The very best way is I do have a website, it’s www.divorcewithdeb.com. I also have an email account that I monitor constantly, it’s firstname.lastname@example.org. Then I have a private Facebook support group, it’s called Divorce Support Group for Women- Information and Knowledge, and you can ask to join there, but the best way probably is to email me and we can set up a free consultation. I provide a free first initial consultation to talk about what’s going on with you and then to explain to you what I do and ways that I will be able to help that person specifically.
T.H.: I have one last question. Have you ever turned someone down?
T.H.: So the dynamic between you and that person, from your perspective, is also really important?
Deb: Well, I wasn’t what they needed. I’m honest with that. I wouldn’t turn anyone down who really needed me and that could use me, but I’m honest with if you’re looking for something, and that particular person was someone who really needed to be in intensive therapy. She wasn’t ready for me yet.
T.H.: Gotcha. That’s good. So you’re being honest because this process is just filled with dishonesty.
Deb: Right. It is.
Jessica: Well, thank you so much for bringing it all to the exEXPERTS community. Because as I said, we feel like this is such an important resource and something that so many more people need to know about.
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