Break up, UES-style

Organization addresses needs of women divorcing in a high-income lifestyle


It’s divorce season, again. But not all divorces are created equal. Here on the Upper East Side, where many have risen so high, a fall from that grace seems especially painful.

For women in this insular and opulent world, the loss of social status, the absence of a support network and cloud of shame surrounding the end of a marriage can be stunning.

“There is a lack of sorority on the Upper East Side. We don’t talk about divorce, because we are ashamed. There is a cultural stigma,” said Liza Caldwell, co-founder of SAS [Support and Solutions] for Women, a Manhattan divorce coaching firm.

“Women [on the Upper East Side] are apt to see divorce as a weakness. They say, ‘This doesn’t happen to us, it happens to people down the economic scale.’” Caldwell said, “There is shame. You don’t talk about stuff happening behind your domestic door.”

Caldwell was a stay-at-home mother on the Upper East Side, and despite having it all in the eyes of many, discovered that her marriage wasn’t working. Trudging through the divorce process made her realize how hard it can be to find resources that are specifically tailored for women exiting a marriage in a high-income lifestyle that are trying to make it on their own.

It makes a woman second-guess herself through the whole process, Caldwell said. For example: “I’m living on Park Avenue and have this beautiful spread, our children are in the best schools and I’m going to the Hamptons every summer. How could something actually be spoiled in this picture?”

Three years ago, Caldwell founded SAS, along with her business partner Kimberly Mishkin, another divorcée, to offer women a holistic resource for divorce, including access to vetted legal and financial experts. They also provide counseling and help women re-entering the workforce.

“I was leaving an abusive situation and no one knew it. It was very well hidden. We were highly educated. We were well employed, living a middle-to-high-income life in New York. And when I was ready to get out, there was nowhere for me to go,” Mishkin, a former administrator at the Spence School, said. She said many resources are geared toward low-income women. “I went to the police station, and they didn’t quite know what to do with me. They had never seen someone walk in wearing a suit and heels,” she said. Mishkin sought help from another organization but they offered her food vouchers and access to a shelter.

“Those weren’t the things I needed. I had income, places to go and a circle of friends, but what I didn’t have was guidance from the law,” Mishkin said. “It was a puzzle that I had to figure out myself.”

Some women just need help moving forward. “Particularly stay-at-home moms who decorated their houses, entertained in their house, raised children in their house … the thought of losing it is paralyzing,” Caldwell said. “It can also be incredibly liberating when you finally offload it.”

[column col=”1/3″]

Median sale prices

Studio         $425,000
1 bed           $749,000
2 beds         $1,750,000
3 beds         $3,950,000
> 3 beds      $8,872,500[/column]

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Median rents

Studio         $2,095
1 bed           $2,700
2 beds         $3,695
3 beds         $6,100
>3 beds      $22,500[/column]

Source: StreetEasy; sale prices are for listings, not closed sales