CLEVELAND — A divorce can be a very isolating experience. It’s something Maxine Thomas, a resident of northeast Ohio, never thought she’d have to go through.

What You Need To Know

  • January is unofficially known as “divorce month”

  • Therapists say couples will often wait to end their marriage or at least start the process until after the holidays

  • Although divorce can be scary, there are resources out there to help people get through it

  • A divorce coach from Ohio and a social worker from New York teamed up to bring women a free support group 

“It just seems as if it's dragging and dragging, and it's costing me a lot of money,” said Thomas.

It’s also something Bonnie Miller Ladds, a certified divorce coach, knows a lot about.

“People don't go into a marriage thinking that they're going to get divorced. But you know what, no one gets into their car thinking they're going to get in an accident. It does happen,” said Miller Ladds. “It's excruciating. It's traumatic and excruciating, and no one wants a divorce.”

Bonnie Miller Ladds.

Miller Ladds is the founder of Focus Forward Divorce Coaching and Therapy. She describes herself as a thinking partner for women going through divorce. She doesn’t want anyone to have to go through the process alone. 

“It's very complex. There's (a lot) of intricacies, nuances,” said Miller Ladds. “A lawyer, an attorney is a part of the divorce. It's a legal process, but it's not the whole of the divorce. There's also a financial piece that really needs to be thought through carefully. There's the children, the child custody piece that needs to be thought through carefully. And then the person's own emotional complexity. It's a whirlwind of decisions, and emotionality.”

Miller Ladds said she sees more people contemplate divorce in January than any other month. January marks a new year, and an opportunity for a fresh start.

“When time passes, we recognize, 'oh, my hourglass is running out,'” said Miller Ladds. “And how do we want to live the rest of our lives and make changes? Sometimes it's losing weight. Sometimes it's making (a) significant change in career and sometimes it's the change in a family structure, including a divorce.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit and many services moved to online, Miller Ladds came across clinical social worker Diane Jerdan. Jerdan lives in Ithaca, New York, but has roots in Ohio. Jerdan grew up in Shaker Heights and Miller Ladds grew up in Beachwood. 

Jerdan is the co-founder of Brief Therapy Associates in Ithaca, New York and the founder of Finger Lakes Women in Transition. She’s been helping women going through separation and divorce in New York for 15 years.

“The most inspiring thing is you see women at their worst, when they're really down and out and in crisis from their families falling apart and then seeing them through the process,” said Jerdan. “They land on their feet. And they get to a place where they're really able to function independently and move forward in their lives. And that's very inspiring to me that women are very strong. And they find their way through a dark time. With the support of others. It's really wonderful.”

In 2021, Miller Ladds and Jerdan decided to join forces. They bring women from New York and Ohio together in a virtual support group every other Saturday. 

“It's wonderful,” said Jerdan. “We've pretty much doubled the population that we're able to serve because of my collaboration with Bonnie, which is great.”

Miller Ladds and Jerdan said there is still a lot of shame and stigma attached to divorce. They provide the divorce support group for free so women can build confidence and reduce stress through confiding in each other.

“It's such a relief to be able to share and be heard and be seen and be supportive in the context of other women going through the same thing,” said Miller Ladds. 

“Women feel extremely alone and their friends really burn out,” said Jerdan. “Friends and family can only listen to all the drama and all the upset and all the fear for so long. They really do burn out, but other women who are also going through this, you know, they're in it together. So it really provides a great sense of support.”

Although Thomas’s divorce is still ongoing, she credits the support group for her new found confidence and happiness. 

“I can have a therapist, but it's only so much that I want to indulge in that. Because yes, she's a woman, but just having other womens’ perspective(s) and seeing what other women were going through and how they were dealing with it,” said Thomas. “I'm strong. But I'm also human. So just having that support with other people. And the breaking point was, the pain was so much. Alright, let me see if it's just me that's going through that, and how do that person deal with it.” 

It’s giving women like Thomas their lives back and helping them redefine themselves so they can get over their past and keep moving forward.

The womens’ divorce support group meets every other Saturday from 10-11:30 a.m. on Zoom. For more information, click here.