According to Divorce Source, nearly 80% of divorces are initiated by the wife. This comes as no surprise to Sandra Lee, a divorce mediator and coach who runs a successful practice called Emerge Victorious, in which she mediates the separation of marriages. She knows from both personal and professional experience how overwhelming, scary and unpredictable going through a divorce can be, and she feels strongly that education and a proper roadmap are empowering, which is why she serves as a “thought partner” and facilitator throughout the process. As a coach and mediator, Sandra is a voice of calm in the midst of the divorce chaos. Meet today’s FACE of Charlotte, Sandra Lee.
What led you to this profession?
I have been a divorce coach and divorce mediator for 18 years now, and my own divorce was a very big factor. I will never forget how alone, confused, paralyzed and angry I felt. I was paying an attorney (who I couldn’t afford) to be my counselor, advisor, financial planner and emotional support, as well as to give me answers that would calm my fears. Will I be okay? Will my children be okay? Will I have enough money? Where will I find a job? I just kept thinking, How I should respond to this confusing legal process? … questions that begged answers but were beyond the scope of my attorney, my family and friends or my ability to answer. I needed a divorce coach, but that didn’t exist when I went through my own divorce. I half-jokingly share that I have earned a Ph.D. through the divorce process – a Ph.D. in Pain, Hurt and Disappointment. Divorce is hard. Divorce changes everything. It interrupts life – every piece of it. BUT there is life on the other side as well, and we get to choose how we respond to our divorce.
Describe your professional background.
When I started this path, there wasn’t a certification in divorce coaching like there is today, so I originally only had training as a life coach. [Now] I have advanced certifications in divorce coaching and mediation. I have since been a part of national organizations creating training programs for both. It has been my continued education and certifications that have most served my career path. Today, and for the last eight years, I have offered my own training for others in the field of divorce coaching and marital mediation. I am a strong believer that when we find a career that intersects with our personality, our education, our life experiences and a need in our community, then that is often when we know we are fulfilling our life purpose in our career. That is exactly how I feel every day in my work.
Why do you describe your work as “the mission field of divorce”?
We understand that missionaries feel called to do important work (usually in a foreign land) helping people who are oppressed or hurting. I feel called to work with a group of people going through one of the most difficult times in their lives. Divorce often feels like a foreign land. If we know where we’re headed, or at least with someone who has a compass, we don’t feel as alone and fearful. I walk the path with these people. There is no judgment; there is a road map to follow. I help them see life is really hard right now, but they will survive. There is a life waiting on them on the other side.
Give us an example of why your approach and process can be better than the typical legal system mentality.
My approach is completely client-vision-driven. I want to hear my client(s) understand what they need to get out of the process and what they feel is in the best interest of their children. The clients know their financial situation, and they know their children better than anyone else, so they know their personalities and needs, and they know how their spouse thinks and reacts (they have lived with them). Who is better to be at the front of the negotiation table than the divorcing couple? All the professionals will go home, friends will go back to their lives, but this family has to live out their decisions and co-parent their children. I believe if each person is heard, given a chance to speak, shares their concerns and needs, is a part of the process of how things are resolved, then they can better live with the decisions agreed upon. When attorneys negotiate on behalf of a client, they often end up angry or dissatisfied with the attorneys they employed and the judge who makes a ruling. Very seldom does one person leave the litigious legal system approach feeling satisfied like they “won.” Most of the time they are both dissatisfied. And more importantly, there shouldn’t be a winner and a loser – the goal should be to help this family forge a path to a new normal and life where the children aren’t the greatest weapon used in the war.
How is the approach better or different when children are involved?
Divorce mediation is always better for the children than if parents go to court. It takes a lot of angry emotions to stay in a place to battle. Moms and dads are not at their best when their emotional energy, physical time and financial resources are going to fight against the child’s other parent. Children will do as well as the level of their parent’s conflict with one another and the stabilization of the parent’s emotions. I always remind my clients that their children will one day be adults, and you are writing the divorce story in their lives that will impact them for years to come. As parents, you have to figure out what their narrative will be about their parents’ divorce and how they felt as the children in the process and the years that followed. For the kids’ sakes, we have to do divorce better.
You are launching a podcast … how exciting! Tell us about that.
Yes, and I am very excited about this next step. I will be discussing topics that I know, after 18 years in the divorce arena, people are asking and seeking answers on. It will be practical and relevant and conversational. My hope is that it’s beneficial to the person who finds his or herself facing divorce or going through the task of rebuilding their life after divorce. We’ll focus on important and relevant topics and have other professionals assist in answering tough questions.
What are three things you can’t live without?
Books. They may be a dying art, but I still love a good book in my hands.
Nature’s beauty — clouds, trees, oceans, mountains.
Smiles. When we see a smile, it connects us. And when I smile, it does me good. They are free and available to us all and at any time we want. I try to remember to do often.
And if I can add a fourth — hugs. I love hugs. That human warmth of friendship and connection is so powerful. We all need them!
Thank you, Sandra. And thank you to Piper Warlick Photography for the beautiful photos of Sandra!
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