When it comes to traumatic events, divorce ranks high. Commonly considered to come in second, right behind the death of a loved one and just ahead of moving, the end of a marriage can shake the very foundations of one’s existence.
No one is happy when they decide to consult a matrimonial lawyer. Sandy Durst, of the Nassau Street firm Lynch, Osborne, Theivakumar, Gilmore & Durst, knows this only too well. “In my office, people break down all the time,” he says. “I probably keep Kleenex in business.”
The fear and uncertainty associated with divorce are among the topics Durst will address at an informal seminar being presented by Suddenly Single, an outgrowth of the Princeton Elite Club singles organization, on Wednesday, August 18, at the Lynch Osborne offices, 264 Nassau Street. Sharing the speaking duties with the club’s founder and owner Kari Adams, Durst will give advice about how to approach the divorce process as painlessly as possible.
He has delivered similar talks in the past. “I always start with basic information about what may be in front of them,” Durst says. “Most people have never worked with an attorney before so I explain how that relationship should work. I tell them what to look for. Your neighbors or your cousins who did your real estate closing five years ago may not be the best choice here.”
While Durst will focus on navigating the legal issues, Adams will talk about getting through the grief associated with divorce and determining when the time is right to consider a new relationship. A divorcee herself, the single mother of two discovered soon after founding Princeton Elite Club last year that many of the people joining were recently separated or had ended a marriage.
“I started noticing that most of the people showing up were divorced, and that a lot of them wanted to get their feet wet with dating again — just to meet new people, not really to get serious,” Adams says. “Then I started hosting seminars and events for people going through divorce. These were people who had been out of the loop and needed to get their dating skills back.”
What began as a support group soon turned into Suddenly Single, which Adams began on the social site meetup.com. “There is a demand out there,” she says. “People really need a social outlet, and they need encouragement from others who may be going through the same thing.”
Durst is happily married to Cheri Durst, director of special events for the Princeton Regional chamber of commerce and president-elect of the Junior League of Greater Princeton. They have a six-and-a-half-year-old daughter. Durst grew up in a Hunterdon County household where divorce was the family business. His father, Robert Durst, was a prominent matrimonial lawyer for 40 years until retiring last December. His mother, Fran Durst, is vice president for corporate communications for Wells Fargo in Summit. Durst is a graduate of the Pennington School. He went to Middlebury College with a bachelors in American literature in 1994, and then earned a law degree from DePaul University in 1999.
“I decided to go into this because I really wanted to help families and children,” he says. “Kids have no legal rights in this country, so there was really nothing I could do that was solely focused on them. I love working with people, and I get to do that and help them through some very difficult situations. And it’s different every day. It keeps me interested while allowing me to help people.”
While it isn’t always easy to maintain a level of detachment, Durst, who is 39 and has been practicing for a decade, tries to leave work at the office. “I care deeply about my clients, especially if there are kids involved,” he says. “But I tell people in advance, it’s not my life. I’m not your brother. I’m not your priest or your cheerleader. You’re hiring me because I’ve done this 100 times, because I can see through the fog and be objective. It’s that perspective that you want. I do have to keep distanced emotionally from it because that’s my job and my responsibility. If I let myself get too emotionally invested, I’d shoot myself. Maintaining that detachment is tough, though I do care. I advocate on your behalf but frame that advocacy objectively.”
At informational seminars like the upcoming event for Suddenly Single, Durst spends time talking about child support, alimony, and asset distribution. “It has to be general. I can’t get too personal there,” he says. “Then I open it up to their questions. Because as much as I hope the information I give is helpful, this is such an uncertain time and scary time for them so getting their questions answered is most important.”
People always ask how long a divorce will take and how much it will cost. “There are a lot of misconceptions out there that people ask me to verify,” Durst says. “They’ll say, ‘I saw this on the Internet’ or ‘My sister told me this, is it true?’ Just because something is on a web page doesn’t make it right.”
Durst is often questioned about mediation, which can be a less costly alternative to a lawyer — but only under certain circumstances. “I tell them that it is appropriate in some cases. It’s never appropriate if there has been domestic violence. Even if it hasn’t gone that far, if there is a real imbalance in knowledge or influence, or if one person is very meek and goes with the flow and the other dominates, it just doesn’t work. You are your own advocate with mediation. It has its benefits but there are many cases where it’s not appropriate.”
Suddenly Single is only for those either currently separated, in the process of divorce, or newly divorced. Future events include a “Hypnosis Comedy Night” at Catch a Rising Star Comedy Club next month. Durst’s divorce seminar is limited to 12 people and costs $20. “I’ve been letting people tell me what they want in the group, and this is something I know they will be interested in,” says Adams. “I’ve been there, and I know what they are going through.”
For Durst, the task is to demystify divorce in a way that helps put people at ease — as much as he can. “Everybody wants to get it over with as quickly as possible,” he says. “That includes me and the client and anyone who is involved. People need to know that they need an attorney who understands the process so that they can navigate it as quickly as they can. Certain things are worth fighting for, and they need to be fought for.”
Divorce Seminar, Princeton Elite Club, 264 Nassau Street, Princeton. Wednesday, August 18, 6 p.m. Suddenly Single seminar with attorney Sandy Durst includes topics of What Now? Dating After Divorce, and Divorce Legal Issues. Q&A and refreshments. Space limited Register. $20. 609-454-3183 or www.princetoneliteclub.com.