The Divorce Diaries: ‘He Ended Up With My Pilates Instructor!’ Charting the Rise of Divorce Coaches in NZ

There’s no good time to discover that your spouse has had an affair.

But for Kate* she couldn’t think of a worse time than when you have a young baby at home and literally can’t pick her up and leave because you’re in Level 4 Lockdown during a global pandemic.

When Capsule spoke to Kate last year she was still reeling from finding out “the truth” from her husband – that when their baby was just three months old, he hadn’t checked into a hotel for two nights to “get some time to relax and sleep”. Nor was it actually all just a business trip like he’d told Kate when he’d packed his suitcase at the time – no, instead it had been a two-night stay not far from their home with the woman he’d been having a short-lived affair with.

When lockdown ended and David moved out Kate was adamant she wouldn’t get back with him. But then she softened – it had been a whirlwind of a few months and she wondered if maybe they should try again. David had been making huge gestures of love and had agreed to do anything – including seeing a relationship counsellor.

“Every time I looked at our daughter, I’d felt like I’d let her down,” says Kate. “Like I’d promised her she’d have two parents. I wanted her to have a ‘normal’ life. I guess I wanted to have a normal life too and not be that woman who was heading for divorce in my late thirties.”

So, she started “dating” David again, then started letting him stay over and within a few months he was pretty much back living with her as a family.

But then, on a regular supermarket trip with her daughter at Christmas, she ran into the wife of one of David’s best friends. Immediately, Kate felt suspicious – the friend couldn’t look her in the eye. Before long, the woman got upset and said she felt Kate had the right to know that it hadn’t just been a short-lived affair – David had been sleeping with that same woman since very early in the pregnancy. It had gone on for at least a year and she suspected it was still happening.

“I felt like I was free-falling again,” says Kate, who soon discovered that yes, the affair had been going on for a lot longer than she’d been told – and there was plenty to suggest it was still happening. When she finally broke it off for good and asked David to move out, she heard that he’d moved straight into the other woman’s home.

“I was completely humiliated,” she tells. “I still can’t believe this has happened to me.”

Kate’s situation was one of the more extreme cases where relationships fell apart in 2020, but she certainly wasn’t alone.

Relationships were put under enormous strain during the many lockdowns – as well as the general strains and stresses of 2020 – and it seems that now we are seeing some unfortunate trends in the number of men and women filing for divorce or seeking help from divorce coaches and lawyers.

Auckland divorce lawyer Jeremy Sutton reported a hike in business of 25% since April last year, while in the UK, leading law firm Stewarts reported a 122% increase in enquiries between July and October in 2020 compared with the same period the year previously.

Here at home, NZ’s Leading Divorce Coach/ Settlement Strategist Bridgette Jackson who runs Equal Exes, says she has been incredibly busy this year. “Since lockdown, I’ve found an increase of I’d say quadruple, in terms of people reaching out and asking for support who are thinking about going through a separation or are in the process of one.”

Bridgette Jackson of Equal Exes. IMAGE CREDIT: Carmen Bird Photography

As a USA CDC certified Divorce/ Separation Coach – a profession which seems to be on the rise in NZ – Bridgette works with clients (70% who are women) who are considering separating from their husbands or are reeling after being told by their spouses that they’re leaving. Bridgette sees her job as helping her clients navigate the legal side and achieve better financial outcomes while emotionally empowering them so they can move on faster.

Fellow divorce coach Kimberlee Sweeney of Degrees of Separation has also been in demand over the last year and has seen the affect that lockdowns had on some partnerships. “It just brought things to a head for some couples,” she tells. “It wasn’t often things that weren’t there already in the relationship, but when they were stuck together in lockdown, some realised that they just could no longer do it.”

“Some have struggled with communication, which obviously wasn’t working well to start with, and that has really gone downhill fast when they’ve been together for weeks on end. For some co-parenting hasn’t gone well – everyone has been trying to work, and then do home schooling, and it has been extra challenging on family. Mostly there will be one partner who doesn’t feel supported in all those roles – they might feel they’re having to step up and do everything while the other is really focusing on their own needs.”

While a slow break-down in communication, or fundamental differences have been the driving force behind the bulk of separations in the last year, there have still been many fiery, nasty splits caused by betrayals or affairs – such as Kate’s.

Divorce coaches see it all – from those slow burning breakdowns, to the sudden, volatile ones. And Bridgette Jackson from Equal Exes knows all too well how draining – physically, emotionally and financially – a high-conflict divorce can be, after going through her own.

Bridgette estimates that her fraught divorce cost her around $500,000 in legal fees and decided there had to be a better way of doing things – and she could help people to avoid going through what she went through.

Now, with a post graduate qualification in dispute resolution and a certified mediator, Bridgette has clients from a range of different backgrounds and walks of life. Sometimes they’re unsure whether to stay or go, or sometimes they are in the thick of proceedings and need some help.

“I recently dealt with someone who must be worth $50 million, and she said, ‘I cannot even take $1,000 out of the account to work with you because he will know and find out what I’ve spent the money on.’  You have all these women who only have joint accounts and often don’t know their full financial situation – many don’t know what’s left on the mortgage.”

Kimberlee Sweeney of Degrees of Separation

Likewise, Kimberlee Sweeney started up her company off the back of a divorce. “We were pretty amicable with it,” she tells. “We talked it through over quite a long period of time before we did it. So, the legal ins and outs of it weren’t too difficult – but it was emotional and challenging because we had a two-year-old. For us, the challenges came after we separated, to do with our co-parenting. We were on different pages and it took a long time to find a new happy equilibrium. For us, that was putting a parenting plan in place – which I didn’t have any idea about when we split up.”

Kimberlee released that there was a need for couples outside of just lawyers – for somebody to support and guide people through the process. “My passion was doing it right for the children – when you’ve got kids involved, you’ve got to kind of put your grievances aside and do what’s best for them.”

So Kimberlee trained in Florida, USA to become a CDC Certified Divorce Coach, and then with the Gottman Institute to become New Zealand’s first divorce coach.

A divorce is nearly always emotionally and mentally draining – and can be a complete drain on your finances as well. Which is why we’re launching a new series..

In the coming weeks, we’ll be talking about divorces once a week – when they’re most likely to happen, how to decide whether to stay or go, what to do if you have kids involved, what mistakes most people make – as well as sharing some of your own stories.

So keep an eye out and if you’d like to share your own experiences, tips or advice (we can keep you anonymous if you’d prefer!) please do email me at [email protected]

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