The Divorce Posse

Remember when all it took to get divorced was a shark lawyer? Today, tony Philadelphians don't dare split up without a cadre of pricey experts — from decorators and plastic surgeons to chakra-soothing massage therapists

IT’S HARD TO be a Rittenhouse Square divorcée.

Take the broken garage door that one of this sleek breed was recently dealing with, in between working full-time, coordinating with her nanny to pick the kids up at school, schlepping the kids to Target in Conshohocken, and getting herself out solo to dinners with friends in Chestnut Hill and on the Main Line. She’s also thinking of moving, but can’t decide whether to look in the city or the suburbs. Less urgent, but emotionally necessary, is the task of emasculating her current house — that is, remaking certain rooms that scream “man,” like her ex-husband’s office, and quietly unloading a few key pieces of jewelry, like the Harry Winston necklace that will in fact help pay for the obliteration of the hated man-decor around the house.

A decade or two ago, our socialite might have had some help from friends and family, but she would basically have had to figure out Divorced Life on her own. Today, it’s a different story.

 “I have an assistant who drives me places now,” says the Square woman. “He takes the kids to Target, he fixes things in the house. Basically, he’s like my husband.” In her hour of need, she has also enlisted a stylish army of supplementary hirelings: a decorator to work on the de-man-ification of the current abode; babysitters; a Pilates instructor to hone her newly single body; massage therapists to ease the stress of everything; and a second part-time assistant. (He’s the one working on the jewelry problem.) 

In our city, it’s not that more people are actually getting divorced — divorce rates have remained constant over the past decade, even dropping slightly in Pennsylvania between 2000 and 2004. But the number of people it takes to get you through a divorce is exploding exponentially. In a certain segment of Philly and the suburbs, people who approached a marital split knowing it would be difficult financially and emotionally suddenly find themselves propped up by, indeed needing, an L.A.-ish entourage as they embark on their new singleton lives.

“I never had a shrink before,” sighs the woman. “Now, I have a shrink, and my kids have one.” What’s worse, her ex-husband has handpicked his own team of pricey pros, including a personal trainer. “I was always trying to get my husband to work out,” she laments. “Now every time I talk to him, he’s in the middle of a workout.”

The rise of these divorce aides-de-camp seems inevitable: For starters, these days all of us need 25 experts to do anything, whether it’s wrestle with our anxieties, choose a paint color, do an abdominal crunch, or figure out where to plant a freaking tree in our yard. Ratchet up this basic 2007 level of insecurity and need for constant reassurance — as happens when one is going through the bitterly lonely devastation of a divorce — and convening a posse of paid helpers begins to make sense.

Particularly if you’re one of the paid helpers, for whom focusing on divorcing couples is just a smart way to make a buck. Ask Jon Ostroff, a lawyer who went through such a soul-numbing split of his own that he was inspired last year to start a business, Plymouth Meeting-based family mediation firm DivorceDoneRight, to help couples sever ties less contentiously. (Business, as you might guess, is brisk.)