Divorce can be a magic mirror that shows you the future you deserve.
This quote was a true fan favorite when we shared it on our Instagram, and it always makes us so happy when you love uplifting ideas about divorce that we share online. There is so much in society that reinforces that divorce is inherently bad and terrible, but so many of you show us every day how it is frequently a solution that leads to a better life.
We connected with today’s guest after we saw that she was talking about divorce in the same way. Nicole Quallen is a collaborative divorce attorney who does an amazing job of empowering her clients to create a better life post-divorce, not just by getting them what they need, but by creating a way for one family to turn into two happy families that can work together for years to come. We’re so excited to share her perspective with you and to introduce you to Nicole.
Audrey: 00:00 Welcome to Divorce and Other Things You Can Handle, a branded podcast from Worthy. I’m Audrey, and I’m your host. Divorce can be a magic mirror that shows you the future you deserve. This quote was a true fan favorite when we shared it on our Instagram, and it always makes us so happy when you love uplifting ideas about divorce that we share online. There is so much in society that reinforces that divorce is inherently bad and terrible. But so many of you show us everyday how it is frequently a solution that leads to a better life.
We connected with today’s guest after we saw that she was talking about divorce in the same way. Nicole Quallen is a collaborative divorce attorney who does an amazing job of empowering her clients to create a better life post divorce. Not just by getting them what they need, but by creating a way for one family to turn into two happy families that can work together for years to come. We’re so excited to share her perspective with you and to introduce you to Nicole. Divorce and Other Things You Can Handle is a weekly podcast, so make sure you subscribe to keep up with the new episodes we’re curating to help empower and uplift you as you embrace your fresh start. This podcast is for you, so join our Facebook group, Worthy Women In Divorce, to let us know what you think and what you want to hear. You can also get more at worthy.com/podcast. We’re going to take a quick break, and then we’ll be right back with Nicole.
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When you are on Instagram of Pinterest or Googling, wherever you’re looking for inspiration to move on, sometimes you just find something that really stands out to you. That was the case for us when we stumbled upon Nicole Quallen. Nicole is an attorney and mediator. She has an amazing practice called Two Families, and it’s a non traditional non adversarial family law practice in Durham, North Carolina. She specializes in separating families outside of court through collaborative divorce, mediation, and private agreements, to help rather than harm your family in its new form. We are so excited to have her on the podcast to talk about the legal experience of divorce, and divorce in our society today. Welcome, Nicole.
Nicole Quallen: 02:50 Hi Audrey. Thank-you so much. Great intro.
Audrey: 02:54 Thank-you. Well we’re so excited you’re here. We are really big fans, and I think you have such a fresh perspective on divorce and the way that you talk about it. It really stands out to us, so we are just so thrilled to have your voice and your perspective be a part of what we’re doing. Thank-you again for joining us. I think before we really get started, maybe you can give a little bit of an introduction. Give some background about who you are for some of our listeners who might not be familiar with you.
Nicole Quallen: 03:24 Yeah, sure. I went through a divorce myself, during law school actually. I was happily married at the beginning of law school, and then filed my own divorce two days before I sat for the bar.
Audrey: 03:38 Wow.
Nicole Quallen: 03:40 Yes, right. Divorce was just destined to be a part of my story. I hadn’t even taken family law in law school, but then after this experience I wound up in a family law litigation practice here in North Carolina, where I really enjoyed working with families. Enjoyed the substance of divorce law. Enjoyed legal work that was so human and personal.
Audrey: 04:08 Right.
Nicole Quallen: 04:09 But really did not enjoy litigation, I guess. Or just really what litigation was doing to our client families.
Audrey: 04:09 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Nicole Quallen: 04:21 I would just see over and over, these families who were in such high stress, and what now I would call traumatic experiences through their divorce.
Audrey: 04:32 Right.
Nicole Quallen: 04:32 Also really high stress and traumatic experiences for divorce lawyers, which I don’t hear people talk about that much. But there’s a lot of pain and stress, and substance abuse issues in divorce lawyers. We’re a really stressed out bunch.
Audrey: 04:49 Wow.
Nicole Quallen: 04:49 Yeah. I mean lawyers in general don’t do well as far as mental health and substance use, but family lawyers are always at the top of that. At least in America.
Audrey: 04:59 I never knew that. That’s so interesting. You know, I knew that I was going to learn a lot on this episode. This is like, it’s already happening. Awesome. I mean not awesome, but interesting.
Nicole Quallen: 05:10 Yeah. Right. I mean I know a lot of that stuff because the bar, for me the North Carolina bar does a lot of research, and lawyers are required to take mental health and substance abuse continuing education every year. Because you know, it’s an issue in our profession and family lawyers are always at the top. Which I totally saw in my practice, litigation practice.
I did that for a couple of years, and literally made one of these big life changing pick up and leave decisions. I quit my job in North Carolina. Left the firm. Moved to New York City to move in with a friend, and started working in the non profit world. I thought, “I can never do law. It’s just not for me. I’m not helping people”. I wanted to help people. “I’m stressed”. Did that for a couple of years, and then ultimately divorce just kept calling me back, and wound up with me back in North Carolina with this practice that I started myself, where I don’t go to court. I work with families that are all over the conflict spectrum, but who are really just committed to resolving their divorce without going into court.
Whether that’s through mediation. This thing called collaborative divorce, which we could talk about. Sort of a specific animal. Or just civilized negotiation. I love it. I’m crazy about my practice. I think divorcing people are just full of bravery. I think it’s a spot in families and society that needs a lot of tenderness and care, and so that’s where I am. I’ve been doing this iteration of it for about three years now.
Audrey: 06:52 I mean, I think people who are listening are probably already as in love with you and what you do as we at Worthy are. Because the way that you talk about divorce, and that you say these people are so brave, it’s so refreshing. There’s not enough talk about people who are getting a divorce in that way. I just think it has to feel so good for somebody who maybe is feeling sorry for themselves, or feeling overwhelmed about the process they’re in, to hear from you who has a lot of experience with divorce. That you see it as an act of bravery.
Nicole Quallen: 07:26 Oh, totally. Yeah. I’m just constantly trying to put healing and reassurance and admiration in that area. Hopefully I’m doing some of that.
Audrey: 07:37 Yeah. Well I think it’s amazing. I do want to hear more about collaborative divorce, and sort of what that model is. Is it something that people can do everywhere? How does it work?
Nicole Quallen: 07:49 Yeah. Okay. Collaborative divorce, so in North Carolina it was created by a statute I believe in 1993. It exists in something like 30 out of the 50 states. This particular animal.
Audrey: 08:02 Okay, so but it’s not something that you can do everywhere?
Nicole Quallen: 08:05 Right. There are some states that don’t have this exact collaborative divorce. Divorce is a state by state issue. Every state has their own peculiar laws about how it works. I’ve had some experience in divorce in only five or so states, and the rest of the country has a lot of overlap in common, but it is a state to state thing. This collaborative divorce, it exists in most but not all states. There may be states that call it something different, or have some sort of a form like this. But the term collaborative divorce is this particular setup that was legislated in around 30 states.
The format is this. In a couple, each divorcing spouse hires a collaborative attorney. The collaborative attorney should be trained in collaborative divorce, have some sort of experience in conflict resolution. All four parties, the two lawyers and the two spouses, agree to negotiate this divorce together and outside of court. What we say is the hallmark of the process is that everyone gets together. We have a meeting. Me and my client, their ex partner, and their attorney. We get into a room, and we go over and sign the pledge.
The pledge is this couple of pages that says, “Okay. We are here to resolve our divorce. We’re all going to be honest. We’re going to turn over our financial information, and we’re not going to hide any balls. We’re not going to make you go through the legal extensive process of discovery. We’re going to just act in good faith and turn this over. We are going to be fair and reasonable in our expectations and our negotiations as much as we can. We are going to give it our all to not go to court”. That is not a strict bar, not going to court. If the collaborative process fails, which it does in North Carolina about I think four percent of the time.
Audrey: 10:20 That’s not a lot.
Nicole Quallen: 10:22 It’s not a lot.
Audrey: 10:22 Wow.
Nicole Quallen: 10:23 I haven’t had one fail yet. I’m sure I’ll lose one at some point. But if it does fail, then you’re not barred from going to court. Then you just sort of start the court or other litigation process that way.
Audrey: 10:36 Right.
Nicole Quallen: 10:36 Then what happens is the group, the four of us, continue to meet in these conferences. We go over issue by issue. We go over parenting. We go over alimony. We go over distribution of assets. We go over child support. Then we have the option of bringing in neutral third parties, usually for parenting or finances. Occasionally there could be a different third party neutral. That person can also help the process move along.
Audrey: 11:04 Give me an example of, like for parenting what would that be? It’s like someone from the schools that the kid goes to? Or what do you mean?
Nicole Quallen: 11:13 Okay, yeah. It’s probably a child psychologist. If you go to court and you have a disputed custody case, one partner says, “I’m a fantastic parent. The kids love me. They thrive with me and my routine. My partner, their dad is a terrible parent”, and dad says, “I’m a fantastic parent. The kids thrive with me. Their mother is a horrible parent”. Each party will get their own expert to come and testify as to what they think is the best interest of the kids. In collaborative we have the parents agree to have one third party who just represents the kids. It’s usually a child psychologist.
Audrey: 11:13 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Nicole Quallen: 11:54 It could be a social worker. Or my favorites down here are licensed clinical psychologists who, they meet with the children multiple times. They meet with both parents separately, maybe together. Assess the kiddo. Then they can come in. If mom is saying that X custody scenario is best, and dad is saying something different, the child psychologist can come in and say, “Well you know, your child is age five. Here’s what’s developmentally appropriate. What I’m seeing is, this schedule might be good. These types of transitions”. It eliminates having two dueling experts who probably disagree, and it eliminates the fees of two dueling experts, and it’s a voice for the kids who are not present in the process. It’s almost never appropriate to have a kid be part of a divorce process directly. It fills that need.
Audrey: 12:44 That’s really interesting. What is the difference between collaborative divorce and mediation? Is it just the legal way that it’s processed?
Nicole Quallen: 12:57 There’s so much nuance here.
Audrey: 12:59 Yeah.
Nicole Quallen: 13:00 It’s also regulated. In a collaborative divorce you’ve got the two attorneys who sort of each represent their own client, but also have a vested interest in the whole family unit succeeding. With a mediator, at least in North Carolina, here a mediator is a third party neutral so they don’t represent anyone.
Audrey: 13:19 Okay.
Nicole Quallen: 13:19 They can’t give advice.
Audrey: 13:21 I see.
Nicole Quallen: 13:22 If I’m mediating for you Audrey, and your spouse, and I think you’re about to make a really bad decision or a decision to give up a bunch of potential support that you could get in court, as a mediator I can’t say that. I’m just there to help facilitate communication and maybe explain the law, but not advise. Whereas in collaborative divorce we’re all working for a resolution, but –
Audrey: 13:49 Much more of an advocate than a mediator.
Nicole Quallen: 13:51 Yes. Exactly. I just met with a client who will have a four way session on Friday with her husband, but we were able to talk on the phone just us this morning, where I was more of an advocate and had that private conversation.
Audrey: 14:05 Right.
Nicole Quallen: 14:05 That’s the big difference.
Audrey: 14:06 I mean it really seems like a scenario where you can provide the kind of support that somebody really needs in this sort of situation, in a way that is appropriate both legally and professionally. But also does allow you to be that kind of sensitive advocate that it’s very clear to me that you are for your clients. That’s great. I’m sure that people who might not have been familiar with collaborative divorce or are wondering if it’s something that they could do where they live, we’ll make sure that we link to some information so that you can look up if this is something that’s relevant for you.
But one of the main things that really has drawn us to you is, I mean I don’t know any other divorce lawyers who talk about issues in the industry quite the same way that you do.
Nicole Quallen: 14:58 It doesn’t always make me popular.
Audrey: 15:01 Well you’re very popular with us, and I’m sure that you’re going to be very popular with our audience as well. I’m hoping that you can tell us a little bit more about where you see the state of the industry being. We just talked about how when you’re dealing with collaborative divorce you’re really able to take care of your clients, and you lead with courage. You see them as being brave and you’re very sensitive to the experience. But we all know that the legal system with divorce and custody and all the different pieces that come with it, it can be a real headache for a lot of people. I’m really interested to hear your take on all of that.
Nicole Quallen: 15:41 Yeah. Thank-you. I mean this is my soapbox and I’ll try not to preach too much, because it’s a super complicated issue. But I think, and most of the people who are in this sort of collaborative area of divorce like I am, what we see is that the legal system setup for divorce is not a great one. It’s not very well suited to allowing families to thrive post-divorce, and it’s really not even suited for families and individuals to thrive or even do okay during the divorce process.
We in the United States have an adversarial legal system. The idea being, one person has a conflict with another person. Our system said, “The bets way for those two people to resolve that conflict is for each of them to dig up the most dirt they can about the other person, point out all of the worst parts about the other person, and the best parts about their own case. Then give these facts to a judge and let the judge decide who sort of has the best case”.
Audrey: 16:53 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Nicole Quallen: 16:54 That sort of a system, honestly I don’t love that sort of a system in most areas. But you can see how in maybe a criminal case or a car accident that might have more utility.
Audrey: 17:05 Right.
Nicole Quallen: 17:06 “I’m going to show all of the reasons the other driver was at fault”. But I divorce it is so ill suited, I think. Because to engage in that sort of a battle, fact finding all of the worst parts about your ex partner, it is so hard to co-parent after that if you have children.
Audrey: 17:28 Right.
Nicole Quallen: 17:28 Or if you don’t have children, just to sort of have some peace with the experience. “I was married to this person. We had a conflict”. It’s really, you can imagine just on a hormonal and brain chemistry level, if you build up so much animosity and you start to look at … This is a thing that happens all the time. Let’s say I’m dad and I need to show that mom is a bad parent, when really at the beginning of the process I might think, “Yeah. You know, we parent differently but I think she’s a pretty good mom”.
Audrey: 18:01 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Nicole Quallen: 18:02 But then your attorney sort of pushes you to say, “Well does she ever have a couple of glasses of wine with the kid? Has she ever missed a parent teacher conference? Do you think she works too much? Do you think she’s a good disciplinarian?”. Anybody in that situation is going to be able to find …
I mean I always think about this with my own husband. I’m remarried now to a wonderful man who I’ll hopefully stay married to for a while. We have two kids. I love him and think he’s a fantastic parent. But if someone said to me, “Does Peter have any parenting flaws?”, I’d say, “Oh, yes. He’s too rambunctious before bedtime. He’s this and that”. Pretty soon you really build up these feelings of, “Yeah. You know? I am a better parent”. It’s such a slippery slope. Especially when people are in a really emotionally tender spot.
Audrey: 18:55 Absolutely.
Nicole Quallen: 18:56 A vulnerable spot. That was what I saw when I was in litigation. I came into litigation as a young attorney …
Nicole Quallen: 19:00 You know, I came at, into litigation as a young attorney with just sort of open eyes and I just was learning. And that’s what I saw as I remember what happened over and over again as folks would come into our office for an initial console and they seemed pretty like on the same page, you know, they’d say, well, we agree on dividing the house this way. We want to do about 50/50 custody. And then through the process and through the way the legal culture works, I would see eight months later these people were barely speaking. All of a sudden there were like motions filed to compel this and stop that. And I think that’s part of how the legal system works because it’s saying if you want to do your best in this process, you’ve got to say bad things about the other person.
Audrey: 19:50 You have to play offense.
Nicole Quallen: 19:52 Yes, you’re right. You have to play offense. And then you also can’t say, you can’t admit to having any fallibilities yourself. You know, you can’t say, yeah, you know, sometimes I’m not my best parent or whatever. You know, the legal system itself I think is just not suited to create any sort of peace for families after they go through it. And then, you know, I’m pretty critical of the family law bar, not because I think, you know, I know tons of family attorneys and I really think that by and large everyone are like, they’re really great people who also like working with families and want to help them out. But on top of first of all, just being stressed out because, you know, like I talked about, it’s a very stressful area, you sort of have to buy into this. So everyone starts to buy into the idea that my client has the moral high ground and their partner doesn’t.
And then the attorneys are really feeding this dynamic when I think that if you can start to approach a divorce from the very beginning with rather than a zero sum win, lose kind of game, just know that most families, and this is not talking about families where there’s like, you know, domestic violence or one person has a serious substance abuse issues and the other one really doesn’t. In most families, both people are trying their best to make this family work, trying to make the marriage work. They have some weaknesses because we’re human. And they also have good traits and the marriage didn’t work for any number of reasons and rather than trying to push it as a, you know, one versus the other situation I think that lawyers could do a lot better in guiding our clients to settling into compromising rather than to just push, push, push, push, push and end up in court.
Audrey: 21:43 I think it’s really interesting, the beginning of your answer to this you were talking about how the court really does pit you against each other. And we hear, especially in our Facebook group, Worthy Women and Divorce, we hear from a lot of people that there really are a lot of challenges. Maybe they’re starting the divorce process with challenges and you know, you mentioned abuse and substance abuse. And of course there are so many reasons that there are families where it does start in that toxic place, but I think it makes a lot of sense what you’re saying, that the way that it’s sort of designed just will add toxicity to a situation because you are kind of asked to point out the worst things about your ex.
Nicole Quallen: 22:29 Yeah, exactly. You’re asked about it. Your lawyer encourages that. The legal process encourages it and also your peers. I’m sure you see this in your work too, like as soon as someone is faced with the decision or the possibility of divorce, they’re likely to actually reach out to friends who have been through divorce. And if that person also had a terrible divorce, the first thing they’re going to say is maybe something like, well start documenting everything she spends because you’re going to want to show the core her expensive.
Audrey: 23:00 Right, or make sure that everything’s in the emails so that you can print it out.
Nicole Quallen: 23:05 Yeah. Which is preparing for a court case. Great, but it’s not preparing for like …
Audrey: 23:05 Co-parenting.
Nicole Quallen: 23:10 A peaceful relationship or co-parenting. Yeah. It’s so hard, you know, I definitely don’t ever want to say, you know, Oh, well you had a terrible divorce because you did a bad job. I just think the whole system needs to shift more towards a compromise method and an in between method rather than the adversarial one.
Audrey: 23:31 Just to hear you say it and explain it in sort of a full picture for those of us who are not lawyers and are not quite as familiar with the process from the standpoint which you are, I think it’s really, really refreshing and also I think hopeful and I think, you know, letting this be part of the conversation and sort of shift the way that people approach the processes is an important first step. So I’m glad that we’re talking about it and sort of looking at it from this perspective.
One of the things that I want to ask you about is let’s say that you know, there’s a woman who maybe she’s listening to the podcast and she’s thinking about her own divorce and she wishes so badly that she could be in this sort of collaborative mindset, regardless of what kind of legal route she’s taking to dissolve her marriage or where she lives, but her ex is super difficult or maybe her ex has a lawyer who is really trying to drive the bills up or you know, bringing that toxicity. What would you recommend for somebody who is trying to not let it get to a darker place and it just seems to be going there inevitably?
Nicole Quallen: 24:43 Yeah. Oh my gosh. I hate that question. I hear it all the time and it’s kind of sad because maybe I hope that I can find other ways around this. But in general, what I think is it’s very difficult to turn that process around once one or both parties has hired a litigator and started down the litigation path. I mean, first of all, if you’ve already filed a lawsuit, to dismiss it as like a big headache and unlikely, but it’s hard. So even if one party has already started down that path, it’s really hard to back them out. You know, and again, I think about this as sort of brain chemistry. Once you’ve decided that it’s fight and/or flight and your adrenaline is going and you turned on all your defenses, it’s really hard to then come back to some sort of a mediation collaborative setting and actually engage in conversations. So that’s sort of a bad news and why that question makes me sad.
But I would say to anyone who feels like it’s not so far gone, if you are the person who really sees the value in mediation or collaborative type divorce, really wants to avoid a 12 year co-parenting nightmare. I think there’s a chance. And these are the things that I would say to do. First, you know, find a collaborative lawyer in your area that you meet with and feel good about. And then try to find suggestions of collaborative attorneys that your partner spouse can also meet with because you know, the collaborative attorneys that I know and work with are so amazing and they make every person that they meet with feel like they will be advocated, for the collaborative process is worthwhile and that, you know, giving up on the litigation path is not saying my spouse didn’t do anything wrong or not saying that there wasn’t tremendous pain. It’s just saying let’s navigate it in a different way. So you know, providing those suggestions can help.
This is the other thing that I say to people. So if the idea of like great co-parenting or reduce stress doesn’t speak to you, something that speaks to most people is money.
Audrey: 24:43 I knew it was going to be money.
Nicole Quallen: 27:05 And the numbers around litigation are just crazy. I heard Erin Levine in her episode talk about costs, I guess for California or maybe they are nationwide, but in North Carolina it’s something like. this from a couple of years ago, but in a divorce with custody, I think the average, the average, so not the high ends was like $17,000 per person.
Audrey: 27:31 Every time I hear these numbers, I just, I lose my mind. I mean, that is so out of control.
Nicole Quallen: 27:38 That’s not okay. That’s not where you want to put your money. Think about that money and you know, where you could go on vacation or retail therapy, whatever you do with that money. Just told a client this morning, she said, you know, no offense, but we want to keep our bill down. And I said I want to work with as many families as possible with tiny, tiny bills because it really, on top of the emotional trauma, you add a financial bill and it’s awful.
But yeah, so if you want to say to your partner, to a partner who’s maybe, you know, really feeling defensive and having a hard time and on the litigation path you could say something like, you know, collaborative divorce. And so these numbers, again look in your state, but collaborative divorce is going to be way cheaper. I know I personally, I tell folks that I’ve never had a five figure bill for any family. So every family I have started with and left, I think the very highest I ever had was something like $8000 and that was a pretty tough case. But so I’ve never even reached that average of $17,000 whatever. You’re going to save a ton of money and most of my cases are right around $3000 start to finish. So that’s a huge savings and especially, you know, if you don’t have tons of money, that’s a great reason to try this.
And I would also say, you know, in a domestic violence situation you never want to put yourself in danger and you don’t want to be negotiating with an abusive spouse. But outside of that, if you see someone who’s really angry, really defensive, really, you know, lit up about this as hard as it is, try to in a quiet space on your own, conjure up a little bit of compassion or empathy and try to think because that’s probably a person who is in a ton of pain and has no idea and no tools about how to handle it. You know, take every bit of emotional energy you have. And maybe make a plea like, hey, I know this is awful and you know, I know that the circumstances of how we got to this divorce are so bad. I’m so sorry for my part about it. Instead of turning this into an expensive time consuming hurtful mistake, maybe just try this.
And I think that once people can meet with collaborative attorneys, it’s such a supportive system because you’ve got the two attorneys who are really well trained in conflict plus potentially these third party neutrals is coming in. It’s so supportive that we can really help dial down quite a bit of conflict. So that’s my hope for response to people like that.
Audrey: 30:07 Yeah, I think it’s really good advice. I mean, I definitely think that the money piece is, it’s an easy sale for most people, but also, you know, you talked a little bit about healing and at Worthy we talk a lot about life after divorce and so like this is a moment in your life and it seems like going the collaborative route really allows you to get to that next chapter with more of you there. And if you can avoid tearing each other apart, I think you both come out better for it
I have so much that I want to ask you and we’re going to need to take a little break. But then when we come back, I think we can talk a little bit about what you recommend people who don’t live in North Carolina and can’t hire you, um, what you think they should look for in representation. And then we’re going to talk a little bit more about stigma and divorced in our society today. So we’re going to take a quick break and we will be right back with Nicole.
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Okay. We are back with Nicole and Nicole, like I said before the break, not everybody is in a position that they can hire you, but you know, you identified a lot of the issues that people should look out for in sort of the litigation route and just sort of the industry today and just how divorce is happening. So for our listeners who are just in the beginning of their divorce journey and they’re getting ready to move forward, what should they look for in a lawyer or a mediator? What do you recommend?
Nicole Quallen: 32:14 Yeah, great question. So like I sort of alluded to before, I think one thing to think about is timeliness and don’t wait for your partner to hire an attorney who could be a litigator because you know, like we talked about that slippery slope, but when you are looking, I think a great place to start is search collaborative divorce attorneys in your city. I do this all the time. A friend will email me and say, hey, my friend is going through a divorce in Denver. Do you know any collaborative folks there? And it’s rare that I know anybody outside of my area, but start with googling collaborative divorce attorney in your city.
And then, you know, you can look at the website and see what sort of a feel it is. Look for people who are talking about, you know, non adversarial work and talking about things like co-parenting or like you were saying, Audrey, the future after divorce because that’s really what you’re, you’re not going to be divorcing forever. So people who are talking about setting you up for the future rather than within the conflict. And then I think it’s a feel issue. There are attorneys here who market themselves as mediators and conflict resolvers and I get an initial phone call from them and they’re making threats and insulting the other party. And honestly I think that non lawyers and just human beings have a way better knack for this than lawyers.
Tons of people come to me and they say, oh, we had a consult with, you know, so and so litigator. And it was really scary. They wanted me to put a tracking device on my spouse, his car.
Audrey: 33:55 Oh my God.
Nicole Quallen: 33:56 And all the time.
Audrey: 33:59 Is that real?
Nicole Quallen: 33:59 It’s all the time. Someone just told me that and there wasn’t even that much conflict. I don’t even know what they were going to track.
Audrey: 34:05 Is that legal? Can you do that?
Nicole Quallen: 34:07 It is. There are some things you have to do to be able to make it admissible but people absolutely send private eyes. A lot of times they’re trying to prove infidelity or trying to stop alimony by proving that someone is cohabitating. But I think most people would know if someone says that they’re a collaborative attorney, I think this is such a good thing to look also. People who only do collaborative, I would say, are really great because you have more time honing those skills of conflict resolution. There are a lot of people who, 90% of their practices litigation but they like took a collaborative training at some point and they offer that. And I’m sure some of those people could be great.
Actually one of my mentors, her practices like probably 70% litigation just because you know, she’s like a sole breadwinner and she needs to do whatever she can. But most people, I think if you’re solely doing collaborative, you’re probably going to be better at it.
Audrey: 35:08 Right, or it’ll at least be more of your mindset, I guess.
Nicole Quallen: 35:11 Yeah, exactly. And this is what I would say, the mindset of not one party has the better case in the other party is is worse. Just a mindset of here is a family that is transitioning into a new form and we want both family units, two families to thrive because everyone’s going to do better when everyone can pay their bills, everyone can speak to the kid, everyone can have respectful conversations, then everyone is going to do better. If there’s conflict anywhere, everyone will feel it. The parties will feel it in the kids will absolutely feel it. So that’s the mindset shift.
Audrey: 35:45 Yeah, I mean I imagine that we have some listeners who, you know, their divorces already, maybe it’s already over, but whatever, the whole vibe between them and their ex is toxic. And maybe it feels like this is so far away from where they could be. But I think there is a lot to be said about you will be happier if you’re not angry and you will be happier if you feel comfortable when your kids are with your ex. If you can create that kind of environment it really is the most ideal I think. And, and it may just be, you know, idealistic for some people, but it’s so great to hear that there are people like you out there who are working to provide these kinds of solutions for families.
Nicole Quallen: 36:32 Thank you.
Audrey: 36:34 Nicole, one of the things that really drew us to you was this language that you use. You wrote that normalizing divorce won’t make it more common. And I think this is, this is like one of our guiding principles with the way that we talk about divorce at Worthy. And I was so happy when I saw that and I was hoping you could talk a little bit about that. You know, I don’t think our listeners can hear that kind of thing enough. So tell us a little bit about where that comes from.
Nicole Quallen: 37:06 Yeah. I’m so glad you liked it too. When you said that I was like, oh, she really gets it. She’s really thinking about divorce too. So I put that up there because divorce stigma is like a huge thing for me. And that was very big personally in my own divorce. I went through this divorce that was like we didn’t have children. It wasn’t super controversial. We were really young and I felt so much stigma and fear and all of these really icky feelings. I’m like feeling them now, just talking about it from, all the people around me, you know, people who loved me and just society in general around divorce. And it was actually a real shock to me. I thought, you know, here’s this decision that we’re making that is a really good decision for everyone. Like we are not meant to be together, we both going to be happier, not married and still there’s like this huge stigma. What is it? So it’s like a thing that I think about all the time and …
Nicole Quallen: 38:00 This huge stigma, what is it? So it’s like a thing that I think about all the time and read about and I’m just trying to question and shift if possible. And I think that if you talk to someone who is, you know, really anti divorce, openly anti divorce and you said why stigma? Why stigmatize someone? Why isolate someone? Why blame someone for their divorce? I think at some argument that people would say is, well, you know, divorce is bad. It’s bad for families, bad for kids, which, you know, the research definitely doesn’t say that. Then, you know, we don’t want to support something like that because it’s bad for society. Okay. I mean, like I said, I think that the research is sort of a little bit all over the place, but it certainly doesn’t say that it’s unequivocally awful that we need to not support it.
But even if it were, you know, so let’s say divorce does have some consequences to the people in it and kids, even if that were the case, you know, divorce is a thing that’s rough and has some pain involved. Could we really get rid of it and if we do, could we do it by stigma? I think the answer there is no. And so, you know, I’m not a social scientist and there are people who have devoted their entire research career to questions like this. And the people that I read it say divorce is as old as marriage or you know, monogamous partnership. These are like human anthropologists who looked back, Helen Fisher is one of my favorite of these anthropologists and she looked back at, you know, early hunter gatherers who were coupling and they were a coupling an average of three times per life.
They’d have, I think it was like one coupling before children, one during children and one as the kids grew up, something like that. You know, there’s just tons of evidence that as much as human beings are trying to stick themselves together in units, they’re also coming apart at times and maybe you know, good or bad consequences to that, maybe we ought to not stigmatize it and try to ignore it and just think about how we could do it better.
Audrey: 40:09 There’s so much truth to that. I mean, I think it’s so interesting to look at the history of monogamy and marriage. It’s not something that I had ever thought about before you and I started speaking about doing this episode and I think it’s such an interesting perspective, but I think what you’re saying about, you know, like can we shame people into making their marriages work? Like, of course not. And I think the bigger picture also, you know, that’s the story that we really tried to tell, is that you really deserve a happy life and if you’re in a marriage that isn’t making you happy or you know, isn’t filling you with positivity, then you don’t need to waste your life and you shouldn’t feel bad about wanting more for yourself.
We have this really great episode with another Nicole, Nicole Amaturo was on and she told this beautiful story about she had three kids in her first marriage and when she decided to leave her kids’ dad, she was very worried about how they would feel about it and what it would reinforce to them. And what she found, now her kids are, you know, they’re teenagers, they’re in college, they’re growing up and they’ve really reflected to her that she showed them how to take care of herself and she showed them the importance of self love and you know, being able to identify what it means to stand in your worth and why that’s important.
And I think when we lean into this stigma or we talk about marriage as if it’s going to be what makes someone happy, where we’re not really giving people the opportunity to have a happy life a lot of the time.
Nicole Quallen: 41:50 That’s so beautiful. I want to listen to her story.
Audrey: 41:52 Oh, it’s a great one. I’ll send you the link after we’re done recording. It’s a really special episode. But I think you’re right that the idea that we could shame people into staying in situations where they’re unhappy, it’s like, why would we want to do that as a society?
Nicole Quallen: 42:10 Right. I mean, families are important, no doubt they have like an important function in society, but not every family, I mean, every one of us has seen families where we think, oh my gosh, there’s such a toxic vibe in this family. Do we want to shame them?
And the reason I think that divorce should be normalized, and I use that word, is think of all the good things that come out of normalizing divorce. Like in your work, you are absolutely normalizing divorce. You’re talking about it. You’re not like in secret, your publicly saying, hey, people who choose to divorce often have great reasons and are reclaiming part of their life. They’re making difficult choices or sometimes it’s not difficult, but often a difficult choice that’s really good.
Audrey: 42:58 Difficult trajectory at least.
Nicole Quallen: 43:00 Yeah, right. There’s almost always some [crosstalk 00:43:03] there and that can only come out when it’s normalized. But if you’re not talking about it and you don’t know, you know, not enough people have heard Nicole’s story. I love when people post on facebook a divorce announcement, and not to pressure because it’s not right for everyone and not at the right time. But when I have these awesome, brave clients who will post a really beautiful message on facebook saying, you know, whatever version they want to tell about their story and just announce we’re putting it out there versus normally it’s just the, you know …
Audrey: 43:35 Like a dark secret.
Nicole Quallen: 43:38 Yeah, right. Nobody knows, there’s whispering so and so took down their profile status and maybe changed their last name and everyone’s sort of like, did they, didn’t they? Which I understand because you face a lot of stigma when you to do that.
Audrey: 43:52 Absolutely yeah.
Nicole Quallen: 43:53 But if we could normalize that, everyone could get support and you could share your nuance stories and I just think so much good would come out of normalizing it that like let’s just be brave and just talk about it, divorce happens. It’s been happening for all of humankind. Let’s talk about it. Good, bad and ugly.
Audrey: 44:08 Yeah. Well, I think that you’re doing a lot of work to do that and I hope that, you know, we are also helping with that. And you know, you talked before about how your clients, you see them as brave and I think our audience is also an amazing group of really brave women and I love, especially in our Facebook group, you know, now we really get to see them talking about their divorces with each other and supporting each other and helping to empower one another through the experience.
And I do think that the conversation is starting to change and it’s not just something that, you know, people who have a podcast or a law practice can do. It’s something that each person has their own story and their story matters and it’s something worth being brave about instead of ashamed of. And hopefully we’re helping make that a little bit easier.
Nicole Quallen: 45:01 Yes, you are. You are for sure.
Audrey: 45:04 Well thank you. I want to talk about something that I think you can help make a little bit easier. One of the things that I know you specialize in is conflict resolution. I’m hoping that you can give some what I believe you called nonviolent communication tips to our listeners who maybe they’re done with the legal process and they’re officially divorced and it’s over, but they’re still dealing with an ex with pickup scheduler or whatever it may be. What are your tips for being two families with peace?
Nicole Quallen: 45:37 Yeah, definitely. That’s really like such the core of this work. Okay, so none of this is my own. This is all stuff that I’ve learned from all of the people who have been doing this work forever, but I’ll give you two or three of my favorite tips and these are for people in divorce or just humans. You need to interact with other humans who you know can be annoying and difficult to get along with.
Okay, so the first one is this, so nonviolent communication is this entire philosophy created by this guy called Marshall Rosenberg. He created it actually in desegregating schools in the 60s, and it’s just this theory of how people can communicate about conflict where you lead to resolution without causing violence. And by violence we don’t just mean physical violence, but you know, without things like what he calls violent communication threats, controlling insulting words that are meant to cause pain in someone else.
Okay, so one tip is this, one of the cores of nonviolent communication is that every person has needs, human needs that need to be met and to be able to have helpful, respectful communications and to resolve conflict or even to know where you stand with someone else is to be in touch with what you really need. So if you’re going into a traditional divorce, you’re not really often guided to think about what do I need to get through this? You’re often guided by what can I get? How much money can I get? What am I eligible under the law to get?
But we encourage people to think about what do you need? And it can be really not concrete. So for example, if you were a stay at home mom or an unpaid work from home mom, I call them and you are facing this divorce, something you might need is education. Or you might need something as intangible as the feeling that I can provide for myself, the security of a home and you know, all sorts of needs. I need to feel safe. I need to feel respected as a parent. I need to feel like I have a meaningful connection with my child every day. You know, maybe that’s FaceTime, things like that. These very human needs that are not legal at all. They’re very, you know, human. And so one great tip is this, I tell this to all of my clients before we start a collaborative conference is take some quiet time and try to listen with you know, just without any judgment of yourself and just ask yourself, what do I need? What do I need to be okay in the next one year? What do I need in this settlement, this legal document to make me feel like I can move forward and be a healthy person? Personally since learning about nonviolent communication that’s a guiding thing for me is be in touch with your needs. So that’s one great tip that I think everyone can, can start with is just identify your needs. Just be really generous with yourself and say it’s okay to have human needs. You know, there are parents all the time that are just like so have neglected their own needs for their children that they can’t even remember. Like oh I’ve been hungry for an hour, but we all have needs and if you don’t identify them, they don’t go away. They just sort of sit there unmet and …
Audrey: 45:37 Foster.
Nicole Quallen: 49:04 Yeah. Right. And that’s not good. So the closer you can get in touch with them. And then the next step in the process is being able to say them. Okay. So that’s one tip. I could talk forever.
A second tip that I think is great is here’s a very basic format that helps in collaborative conferences, which is we don’t make demands, we don’t make threats, we make requests. So anything is on the table for you to request. And in collaborative conferences we talk about the law but we don’t think the law is the be all and the end all. If you want to agree on something that would be different than a court does and it’s good for your family and it’s, you know, within the bounds of the law, go for it.
And so think about this. When you’re communicating with a co-parent may be about taking a vacation with your kids, switching schedule, school choice, people don’t respond well to demands. You know, if you text and say, listen, you know, Johnny is doing poorly at school and he needs to go to this new school, you need to go there and sign up for this, nobody responds well to a demand. It’s just like it lights up your animal brain and sends you into fight or flight. A request people respond much better to. So Hey, Co-parent, you know, I don’t think that things were going well at Jane’s School. Could we consider switching her to X school or I would request that we switched her to X school. So it’s a request and a response format.
And then as the person who’s receiving the request know that you always had the option to say yes or no. I think women in general, I hate to generalize about sexes, but you know, women were just taught different social behaviors and it’s often hard for us to identify our needs, make requests, and then to say no, but it’s always okay to say no. So if your co-parent is requesting, Hey, love to take so and so on vacation in two weeks for whatever, if you feel like the answer is no, and that’s what’s best for you and your kid, it’s okay to say no and then maybe try to offer a different, okay no two weeks is really not good. She’s got exams that week. Could we talk about other possibilities?
So thinking about the request and response format rather than threats and demands is just a huge shift in communication that I think can help people.
Audrey: 51:33 That’s really good advice. And, you know, I know we have to let you go and we’re definitely gonna need to have you back on and have you be more a part of the conversations that we’re having all the time because you’re so full of good advice. But for our last question, I actually want you to tell us, what is the worst advice that you have heard given to a divorced woman or a woman going through it?
Nicole Quallen: 52:01 Boy, the worst advice. Oh Gosh. Okay. Yeah. Let’s say it’s this. There’s a lot of bad advice out there, but like we talked about before, if you get advice from a friend or a family member who’s gone through a really, really tough divorce, I would, you know, take that advice with a grain of salt. But I think one of the worst things that you can do is like we said, if someone tells you, okay, you’re about to go through a divorce, what you need to do is divide your bank account, take your money, start tracking emails, start to become suspicious and become a litigator immediately. And this is advice that litigators give because they have to. It’s good for their case.
I think that some of the worst advice you can do, and especially moving money in a bank account, it can turn to people who trust each other into two people who can never trust each other again. So don’t do that. That’s my advice.
Audrey: 52:56 It ended up being good advice. She can help us, but you know, I think that there’s so much value in the things that you have to say and you know, I guess we can just close the episode based, sort of hoping for our audience that you know, more of you are in a situation where this is relevant and you are uncoupling with a partner who is willing to kind of proceed with these same ideas that will lead you to heal and to thrive because life after divorce can be amazing even if you’re not able to move through it in these kind of peaceful and conscious ways.
There’s a bright future ahead and there are amazing people out there like Nicole who are fighting to make it better for all of us every day. So thank you so much for being on the podcast and I’m really looking forward to having you back on and learning more from you.
Nicole Quallen: 53:51 Thank you so much, Audrey. This has been awesome.
Audrey: 53:56 Next week we’ll be joined by Sydney Hatch, a leader for social advancement and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day saints. Following her divorce, Sydney wrote a book that helped change the way the church approaches divorced members. Regardless of your personal faith, Sydney’s story is inspiring and the stigmas she’s dealt with are ones that we can all relate to it. Make sure you subscribe so you can catch every new episode of Divorce and Other Things You Can Handle in your feed weekly if you like, what you hear, rate and review us to help other women like you find us.
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