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Workshop helps women face challenges of divorce

In the midst of the economic downturn, many Americans are giving up unnecessary expenses: new cars, vacations and now – divorce. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, divorce rates have plummeted to depths not seen in nearly 40 years.

In the midst of the economic downturn, many Americans are giving up unnecessary expenses: new cars, vacations and now – divorce. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, divorce rates have plummeted to depths not seen in nearly 40 years.

That trend is being recognized by a local nonprofit named The Lilac Tree that provided partial scholarships to some clients that attended last weekend’s Divorce University at Evanston Hospital.

While the full price of the 23rd biannual Divorce University was $125, some attendees paid $5 with a “pay what you can” system.

“What we say is, ‘We can help you now and years from now, you can come back and volunteer,’” said Lorraine Murphy, executive director of the organization.

The daylong event combined the nonprofit’s year-round program offerings — divorce information sessions, workshops, support groups and referrals — into one package.

More than a dozen panelists, including lawyers, financial planners and psychotherapists, educated clients on the legal, financial and emotional facets of divorce. With an audience of 115, the seminar had the highest turnout in over a decade.

Throughout the one-day event, speakers balanced the gravity of divorce with humor in candid talks.

Laughs burst out as family law attorney P. Andre Katz spoke bluntly about his selection of clients and proper courtroom behavior for prospective divorcees.

“Trust me, after the first consultation, we’ll know if this is going to be a nightmare or a pushover,” he said. “We’ve had people who have done well in the private sector and they walk into court and act like animals. You have to think ‘How am I being perceived?’ Because trust me, they’re writing ‘cuckoo.’“

At the same time, Katz advised audience members to be equally cautious when hiring a lawyer. Those shopping for lawyers, he said, should ask candidates if they have ever been sanctioned or found in contempt of court.

“The lawyers who are theatrical, trust me, the judges know them,” Katz said. “You’re going to be stuck with their meshugas.”

Katz also recommended having access to cash that your spouse cannot cut off, along with copies of tax returns and as many financial documents as possible while going through a divorce.

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Naomi H. Schuster outlined the legal divorce process: deposition, disclosure, and settlement discussion, and asked the audience to make their children a priority in the process.

“Your most valuable asset are your children and you need to stay focused for that child to prosper and grow beyond that trauma,” she said. “Children need to know it’s not their fault. To really know what love is, is to put your own needs second.”

Schuster also emphasized working amicably toward a solution with a former spouse.

“Litigants want blood, revenge from the person they thought was their best friend but who is now their archenemy,” she said. “Forget what he did to you. Forget the buttons you know to push to aggravate each other.”

Karen Covy explained her role as a divorce mediator — an independent, neutral third party who helps clients find ways to settle the case themselves outside of court. Mediators do not give legal advice, Covy said, but there are major benefits to mediation.

“Less trauma and drama,” she said. “No one is running to court, which costs more financially and emotionally.”

Other speakers offset the solemnity of divorce with sympathetic and motivational words.

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf,” said Gloria Ceccarelli, a former Lilac Tree client. “Don’t beat yourself up about your decision. Loss happens. Have confidence in your intuition. You will pass the test.”

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