You would think that if anyone knew how to get divorced, it would be a lawyer.
Over the course of her career, Kristi Skordahl had helped many couples sever ties and divvy up property. But when her own marriage ended after nine years, she froze. She hired a lawyer she didn’t connect with, and watched her ex, a prominent attorney, take the couple’s home, possessions, and beloved ranch in South Dakota. In her early 50s, Skordahl found herself in an empty apartment with just a single place setting and a litter box for her cat — but happy at last. She got a retail job at Macy’s, studied for the bar (she hadn’t practiced for a few years), set up her own practice, and rebuilt a happier life as a single person.
“A couple years ago, I had been talking to clients all day, and my voice was just shot. I sounded like Bill Clinton at the end of his first campaign. I wished I had a book I could just give people,” she said in an interview.
“I’d been looking for one for a long time and couldn’t find anything. I relied on ‘survival reading,’ like Mary Oliver’s poems, or Lorrie Moore’s stories. A lot of divorce books just have a lot of statistics and ‘you should do this, you should do that,’ but they didn’t address what people were going through emotionally. So I started writing, and the book just flowed out of me.”
“And Then She Was Happy: A Book About Divorce,” is part memoir, part guide. It chronicles Skordahl’s own marriage from first date to last day, then moves into a series of chapters that address the psychological process of moving on.
“I could see how much it helped my clients to see that I really got the pain they were going through. I started sharing the survival tips I learned during my own divorce,” says Skordahl, whose advice centers on healing and rebuilding identity.
Minnesota’s divorce rate is the 6th lowest in the nation, but about half of all marriages come to an end, and Skordahl would like to see that process become less acrimonious.
“I do think things have changed a lot since I started practicing in the early ’90s. There was so much posturing and animosity, and people thought they had to fight to win. We lost focus on what people really needed, and people tended to be more damaged at the end than in the beginning. So things changed in the law and how people were treated,” she says.
And yet, when she went through the process, the experience was brutal. “I wasn’t a lawyer, I was a person in pain. I made good choices and not-so good choices.”
As you can imagine, Skordahl’s ex does not come off well in her book — though she readily says she truly loved him, and doesn’t regret her marriage.
“I didn’t want to throw anybody under the bus, I just wanted to tell the truth. We didn’t have kids together, so I was in a unique position of being able to talk about what it’s like to be in that kind of relationship. If he wants to write his own book, he has his own story to tell. But this is my story.”