By: Curtis Wiberg
A divorce is a giant upheaval, and the challenges of maintaining your career while going through a divorce and adjusting to a new personal life and routine can be one of the biggest challenges.
There is of course the emotional upheaval associated with a divorce. Divorce stress can greatly affect motivation, concentration, sleep and appetite.
There is also the related embarrassment of a personal issue becoming common knowledge among your employers and colleagues.
Some of the questions you should ask yourself as you are going through a divorce include whether to even let your bosses know about the divorce. Your specific situation probably dictates whether and how to approach your employer with the news that you are going through a divorce. I have seen many clients who’ve been able to rely on their employers as a major asset in the process. For instance, in cases involving custody issues, sitting down with your boss to discuss flexible scheduling and working remotely for the purpose of dropping off or picking up kids from school can help you present to the court as being fully able to assume primary or equal parenting time.
Depending on your employer’s personality, letting your boss know that you are going through a divorce may give you a little more rope if there is a brief dip in your productivity or work quality. However, it is important to not rely on a divorce to justify a sustained slump in your productivity or repeated absences from work.
Your employer may also be able to help you verify income information and the nature of whether any overtime is voluntary or mandatory. This is important in helping your attorney determine what to list as your income in cases involving child or spousal support.
There are some practical dos and don’ts in how to balance your employment with your divorce. For instance, when possible, try to schedule events in your divorce separate from your work schedule. Meet with your attorney during lunch breaks, or on your way into work, or on your way home. Minimizing the amount of time you are absent from work is obviously something your employer will appreciate. Relatedly, try to minimize bringing your divorce into your workplace. In other words, call your attorney during breaks, work on compiling information for your case at home, use a private e-mail account instead of a work account to communicate with your spouse or attorney about divorce related issues, and don’t use your employer’s resources for personal matters (e.g. copying reams of personal financial documents on the office copy machine). If you allow your divorce to not only impact your productivity, but the office’s productivity as a whole, then the greater the likelihood of jeopardizing your employment. A divorce is hard enough, and coupling it with a job loss can be devastating.
One unexpected opportunity from a divorce, as it relates to your employment, is to re-evaluate career choices as your transition to a new personal life, especially if you have children. Consider the discussion above where you ask your boss for a little extra flexibility in scheduling to make your life as a divorcing spouse and single parent a little more doable. If your boss says “no”, then do you have options elsewhere? I’ve seen plenty of clients cut way back on travel related obligations with an employer for purposes of prioritizing a role as a divorced parent by either taking a lateral transfer with their employer, or finding a new employer whose travel demands are less onerous. Similarly, even where overtime is officially “voluntary”, there may be a lot of pressure placed on you to put in extra hours by your employers that just may not work for you as you transition to life after marriage.
If you are considering a career change as a consequence of your divorce, be mindful of how accepting a new position or even starting a new career can have adverse impacts on issues involving support if that choice results in a significant reduction in income. (See our article on child support/alimony and voluntary unemployment/underemployment).
After over two decades of helping clients through divorce, I have seen people beleaguered and beset with stress from every angle. Keeping a shred of normalcy can help get you through the uncertain times you are facing. This includes doing what you can to minimize the impact the stressors of divorce can have on your job.