Project Managing a Difficult Personal Transition

April 3, 2019

How I project managed my divorce.

Years of project management experience taught me that navigating difficult situations, meeting deadlines, and accomplishing tasks efficiently with the proper resources is made infinitely easier with the right plan.  If this practice is so effective in our professional lives it stands to reason we can apply similar concepts in our personal lives to achieve the same great results. I started taking a ‘project management approach’ to personal endeavors in the early 2000s.  

One of my first and probably more complex projects was my divorce.  In this post, I will share my process with you and while your situation may not be exactly like mine, there are strategies here that can work for you.  Divorce, separation, marriage, and every other shape our relationships take is complex and emotionally charged. Taking a project management approach to these situations can seem frigid and unfeeling.  Please understand that project managing a relationship does not mean you won’t feel all the feelings, but using this process can add some structure and logic to a situation that feels entirely out of control. On paper, or in this post, rather it will sound like I robotically processed the end of my marriage – I did not.  There was doubt and fear and sadness and anger and resentment and embarrassment….and ultimately relief and healing. It was a journey and I will share some of it with you here.

I started by outlining the categories of concern I had related to the divorce.  I had made a pro and con list in the months leading up to this that I used to inform my outline.  

Validation:  The nature of my relationship had created very mixed feelings about whether I should try to preserve the marriage.  The first and probably most important step was seeking out a resource who could help me identify if I was the problem, if the marriage could be saved, or if my deep down inside gut feeling that I needed to leave my husband was true.  This was the longest part of the journey. I spent months working with a professional to dig through all the feelings and pick apart every piece of the relationship to determine if there was anything left that was worth saving.  Once I felt there was no answer but divorce and those feelings were validated by a professional (and some of my friends and family whom I had confided in), the path became clearer.

Finances:  As in many long-term relationships it was hard to remember where my ‘stuff’ ended and his began.  After so many years I had accrued financial responsibilities that weren’t just mine – how do you untangle the threads of two lives that have become woven together?  There were several finance-related concerns I needed to tackle.

Debt – I had amassed a tidy little mound of debt that I needed to resolve before I could feel comfortable moving through the divorce process and becoming financially independent.

Financing the divorce – I didn’t know much about divorce, but I knew it wasn’t free.  I needed to determine the costs involved and didn’t want to be surprised by any attorney fees, filing costs, or alimony payments (which I was anticipating I would become responsible for).

Post-divorce budget – Thinking through the process, I wanted to know what my life would look like after the divorce process started.  Could I afford to pay my mortgage? Even if I could would I have any money left over at the end of the month?

Legal:  In the theme of preparedness I wanted to understand all the steps involved in the New York State divorce process before I took the first step – filing.  Well, there are a lot of steps that come before the actual filing, but the legal system recognizes that as the first step. I also took inventory of everything I’d need to change or update once we were separated – life insurance policies, deeds, my living will, and so on.

Family & Friends:  In the preceding months I had one very good friend I had confided in about what I was working on.  She knew what was happening, the plan I was formulating, and where things were heading. I wanted an effective communication strategy for everyone else though, primarily my immediate family but also our extended family and my friends who had absolutely no clue what was going on.  I wanted to be prepared to answer people’s questions, protecting my privacy and my soon to be ex-husband’s. It is especially important to choose your words (and your social media posts) carefully as you’re going through the divorce process.

Personal Safety:  The nature of my relationship called for a personal safety plan.  This is something I knew all along, but my therapist also reinforced this in all our conversations leading up to the day I asked, or rather told, my husband we were separating and ultimately getting divorced.  I had a plan for that day and a longer-term plan in case it became unsafe to stay in my home.

Here is the punch list of tasks that comprised my Separation and Divorce Project Plan:


  1. Meet with Barbara (my therapist) for as long as necessary to figure out if separation and divorce are the answer.
  2. Continue to meet with Barbara throughout the separation and divorce process, and ongoing, as needed to help process all the feelings that come with this transition.


  1. Work with a debt consolidation company to create a debt repayment plan.
  2. Pay off individual debt concurrently with therapy (from the above ‘validation’ section).
  3. Schedule a consult with a divorce attorney to understand retainer fees ($3,000) and filing costs.  This attorney also helped prepare me for the alimony payment arrangement that I would likely be presented with. I needed to share my financial details and my ex-husband’s financial details with her so she could determine what I would likely be asked to pay.  
  4. Meet with Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) to review my individual income and costs of living to determine if I can afford everything on my own and what would be leftover at the end of each month.


  1. Research and list the steps required for a divorce filing in the State of New York.  I started here.  
  2. Inventory all personal files to determine where my husband is named as beneficiary or decision-maker and replace with a new beneficiary, POA, etc.

Family & Friends:  

  1. Create a mental FAQ for family and friends who would most assuredly have questions about why we were separated, what happened and what my future was going to look like.
  2. Be especially prepared to answer difficult or inappropriate questions like “who gets the house and the dog?” or “did he cheat on you?”.  Having a quick, one-sentence response to these kinds of questions is a way to arm yourself against this added stress.
  3. Survey the calendar for upcoming events that might be particularly challenging.  We had RSVP’d to a friend’s wedding that was taking place the day after I asked for a divorce.  I had to decide if I was going to attend and notify the bride accordingly. Update: I attended alone, provided a brief explanation to anyone who asked where my husband was, and ended up having a pretty good time!

Personal Safety:  

  1. I created a physical safety strategy for the day I told my husband I wanted a divorce.  My best friend knew when and where we were having the conversation and I was prepared to leave my house and stay somewhere else for the night if the situation escalated.  
  2. I had a short list of people I could stay with in the months following the separation if I couldn’t stay at my home.  I’m fortunate I didn’t need to enact this plan; my brother came to stay with me for several months after and I was surrounded by supportive and protective people who were concerned for my physical safety but also provided emotional support.

If you’re tackling a personal transition like divorce, be sure to summon all of your courage, surround yourself with loving supportive people, and organize yourself – emotionally, legally, logistically to add some structure and logic to a situation that can feel out of control.

If you find you can’t quite map out the perfect strategy to guide you through your personal transition, don’t be afraid to ask for help.  I wish you well on your journey.