Yet another billion-dollar divorce is making recent headlines, adding Microsoft and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the list of mammoth empires entangled in a marital break-up.

These high-profile, celebrity divorces highlight the complexities involved in unwinding a large-dollar-figure marriage, with the splitting of business ownership, foundation management, blended family assets, and international holdings all part of the norm.

What are we hearing about and what are we not hearing about?

There is a lot of coverage about the breadwinner spouse (and in more cases than we would like, the breadwinner spouse is male). How will he redirect his business ownership, redefine his brand, and manage his remaining fortune?

But what does this mean for the other spouse – the spouse taking her portion of the assets, property, business ownership, or foundation responsibility and setting about to rebuild her life after the dust settles?

If you’ve been through a divorce recently and are facing these daunting tasks, what can you learn from the experiences of others that can help as you start to rebuild and craft your new life post-divorce?

Questions to ask yourself if you’re recently divorced:  
– What’s most important to me right now?
– How do I prioritize my time and use my financial resources to give me joy?
– Once I’m ready to move forward, how and where do I start?
– Who can I turn to and trust to help me navigate the many complexities and keep me aligned with my goals?

Our take:  With the shift of focus from a couple’s interests to your individual interests after a divorce, it’s important to redefine and articulate your fundamental goals, needs, desires, and fears before moving on to the details. Without this clear foundation, the seemingly endless list of to-do items can be paralyzing or ultimately out of step with your vision of where you want to find yourself many years down the line.

Your goals first.

Drawing on our experience working with clients through many meaningful life transitions, we’ve found that it is important to be proactive and purposeful in taking the time to self-reflect. Slow down, take a step back, and think about the type of life you want to be leading and why.  Ask yourself:

  • What type of life do I want to design for myself and lead over the next 10 years?
  • What type of impact do I want to have?
  • Looking back 10 years from now, what do I want to say I’ve done? Tried? Accomplished? Who do I want to have become?

The importance of this first step of reflection cannot be overstated.  There is something very powerful about committing goals to writing. The act of choosing specific words is clarifying and illuminates when goals are in conflict with one another. A written goals document can be shared with all of your advisors so that it becomes a north star – no strategy should be implemented unless it furthers these goals. This is why we often spend meaningful time at the beginning of our work with clients getting to a statement of goals.  We’ve seen over and over that this step saves time in the end – otherwise, the many competing demands on your time and the work being done by others on your behalf can pull you all over the place (and often in conflicting directions).

The freedom of choices.

Defining the life you want also requires you ultimately to shed the parts of your current life that do not fit that vision.  Often, busyness masquerades as fulfillment, and an important part of this process of self-reflection is to think hard about what you want to stop doing.  Ask yourself:

  • If I were looking back in 10 years, would I be happy with the way I’m spending my time? With the decisions I’m making?
  • If I feel constrained or unable to work toward one of my life goals, why is that? What’s stopping me? What would need to change for me to feel differently?

These are hard questions and they take time to answer and even more time to act on the answers they reveal.  But, the joy and empowerment that we’ve seen blossom for clients as a result of this reflection process during and after fundamental life transitions has been inspiring. With goals set and plans in place, you can discover the range of possibilities that newly achieved independence and financial resources can offer you.

Taking control.

Once you know where you’re headed and what you will leave behind, it becomes much easier for a team of professionals to execute on the technical and strategic elements that will help you get there.  We’ve found that clients thrive when the right team of professionals is pulled together to address their specific needs in a new situation. With your goals articulated, you are in control – you can learn what you need to know, delegate what others can handle for you, and free up the rest of your time to focus on the life you’d like to lead.

We hope that each and every woman featured in these public break-up stories can find her new path to greatness in the next chapter of her life.

Although divorces will undoubtedly continue (and likely not get any simpler), we know that they can be the start of a new life, crafted with intention.   If you’re finding yourself in that moment when your past life has ended but your new one has not yet begun, seize the opportunity this time presents to reflect on the life you want to create.  And know that, when you look back 5 years from now, this will have been the moment that that new life began.

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Learn more about Michelle H. Soufan here.

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