The Double Whammy: Job Hunting During a Divorce

Of all the different career services I’ve provided over the years, the one service I only performed once, and vow to never do again, involved agreeing to serve as an “expert witness” during a divorce proceeding.  Several years back, I was called in by an attorney to help prove that a woman’s husband was intentionally dragging his feet in seeking to find work, to reduce his future support payments, and needless to say it wasn’t a pleasant experience I plan to repeat.

On a related note, however, I’d estimate I encounter at least a dozen individuals each year who are dealing with the excruciating challenge of trying to find work either during the process of — or shortly after — a divorce.  My heart really goes out to these folks, since it’s hard enough to search for employment without the added challenges, insecurities, and logistics that come into play when your marriage is ending, as well.  In fact, according to most of the psychological articles I’ve perused, losing one’s job and ending one’s marriage both hold a “top 5” ranking among the toughest emotional challenges that a person might go through in their lifetime.  So if one of these challenges is hard enough, on its own, you’ve certainly got to have some sympathy for anybody who is being forced to deal with both challenges, simultaneously!

And yet, I’ve seen very little in the way of advice for people in these situations.  It’s not a topic discussed frequently by the coaching industry, at large, and after doing a quick sweep on the topic, I was only able to turn up a handful of relevant articles — such as the three listed below:

Rebuilding After Divorce: The Job Search
Tips for Returning to the Job Force After a Divorce
Top 3 Career Tips for the Just-Divorced

As much as I think the above articles provide some useful guidelines to people in this situation, however, such as advising them to leverage their network and possibly pursue some new training or schooling, they don’t seem to touch on the key questions I find myself getting asked, most commonly, by people in these situations:

•  Should I wait until my divorce is finalized before starting to look for work, given the emotional toll involved, or would you recommend I try to tackle both challenges simultaneously?

•  Should I mention my divorce to employers when they ask why I’m looking for work or suddenly seeking to get back into the market?  Or cite some other reason, instead?

•  Do you have any good tips for keeping my confidence high during the process, since I’m really going through a roller-coaster, emotionally?

•  Is this a good time to make a major career change, if I’ve been contemplating one, since I’m already in the process of changing many other important aspects of my life?

•  Are there any specific resources, books, counselors, or communities focused on dealing with this unique challenge?

While I certainly have my own opinions on each of these questions, and do my best to provide clients with some useful thoughts around them, I’ll admit that this isn’t an area where I can claim extensive experience — or can relate to directly, on a personal front.  So I’m throwing this article out there in the hopes that some of you might have some additional wisdom and counsel to offer related to handling career issues during a divorce scenario.  Has anybody gone through this process successfully?  Any thoughts, tips, or lessons learned you’d share in terms of how best to view and approach one’s career planning efforts, under these circumstances?

P.S. Additionally, if this article has reached anybody out there currently going through a dual divorce and job search scenario, and who might be interested in comparing notes with other folks facing the same challenge, please e-mail me here and let me know.  I’ve got at least one client who said she’d be highly interested in chatting with other folks in this situation…

4 Responses to “The Double Whammy: Job Hunting During a Divorce”

  1. Posted from Anonymous:

    Hi Matt,

    I went through a divorce/career change/significant financial hardship all at once. I can say that it was a gift to both of us to live apart and a mutual understanding has evolved for the best. We both tried our best to save the marriage. It was a few years ago and time does heal those difficult feelings.

    I was advised not to take a position during the divorce due to the potential for not earning maintenance. My former husband stopped working right before the final trial date. I survived by volunteering and picking up temporary positions. I also changed the field I loved due to the economy and age discrimination. What finally landing me a position with benefits was having a permanent position in an unrelated field. I was then able to have current references from supervisors that led to the position that I am now in. I would strongly suggest taking inventory of your transferable skills and practicing answering interview questions with many others for their feedback. I never mentioned the divorce as it is unrelated to work. Once you fill out the paperwork for health insurance the employer will be so relieved to see that you are not adding dependents. This can be an area of discrimination. I call myself single and am clear I am not at work to get involved in a new relationship.

    It is a tough road and it takes a few years to recover. Financially it hurts woman that were homemakers significantly. I am often complimented on how great the kids turned out. I feel raising them is my greatest accomplishment, but I can never say that in an interview. Only work related responses. I also would recommend joining organizations where you are involved in doing something for them, so people can get to know you better.

    I hope that helps, and I hope that people can resolve the issues before it comes to that point.

  2. Thank you for your very important post, Matt. This reminds me of a woman I’ve worked with where both she and her husband were laid off; he had cancer and they only had one car to share for chemo and interviews. She was heartbroken.

    Any advice to people during this time needs to be with the mindfulness of what is lurking beneath the “presenting problem” as they say in psychological circles which is–in the case of your post–divorce and job search. For example, there’s a spectrum of urgency to consider that can include things like spousal abuse (verbal; emotional; physical); illness and loss of someone close to the person. As with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, there are levels of priorities (as you well know) during this type of circumstance with divorce and job search.

    The level of criticality of the situation can alter a person’s perception so much. They at least need to understand that their current view may be skewed in a job search to such a degree that waiting and hanging in there with a current job may be best (assuming they have one) until the immediate crisis blows over. One exception to “hanging in there” would be if their job was harmful.

    I have more thoughts but they will only serve to deepen the above. I’m sure you get my drift here.

    Thank you again, Matt.

  3. I met one guy in networking who was in the situation and he seemed to be wearing his heart on his sleeve in a way that I think was prolonging/sabatoging his job search. He was leading with his personal story about having to move out of his house etc and then the same happened for economic reasons after a prolonged search again – talk about a double trauma.

    I would think getting in regular psychological counseling – not to mention having a good lawyer/mediator and financial advisor — would probably be the number advice for dealing with a double trauma situation like this. I wouldn’t mention getting divorced in the search process to employers or during networking most of the time because I think it could make the employer or contact think the person is unstable or some other negative stereotype. Too much pity is not a good thing – a little empathy can be ok – in professional or other situations.

    Also I think it’s likely to be unique – someone who needs to make a move they’ve always wanted but someone else who needs more stability in their life when everything else is changing.

  4. I feel for anyone going through this – it’s tough!

    I’ve had to job hunt during a divorce, it led to my infamous worst interview ever…when the interviewer asked me the tricky “How are you doing?” question and I burst into tears. Fortunately I knew the person well and got the job despite my dismal interview performance. So my advice would be either try and leverage connections with friends/colleagues who already know what’s going on anyway, and would forgive you any emotional ups and downs…or keep it completely out of the conversation. You can always say “a change in family circumstances” has led to a need to find a job that requires less travel, different hours, etc.

    Similar challenge – how and when to job hunt if you are trying to get pregnant! Starting a new job when you’re hoping to get pregnant any day doesn’t seem like a great idea. Yet staying in a stressful job that may be contributing to your challenges in trying to become pregnant doesn’t work either.

    Sometimes you just have to take it day by day and work with what information you have right now, not what you are projecting or hoping for your future.

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