Sarah Intelligator On 5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce

Authority Magazine Editorial Staff
Authority Magazine
Published in
13 min readDec 11, 2023

Take care of you–Divorce is emotionally and financially stressful. I see countless intelligent and successful individuals fall apart during their divorces. I have had several clients who felt so hopeless leading up to their divorce that they grew depressed, anxious and were even suicidal. These people never previously struggled with any mental health issues. There are a number of resources and self-care modalities, of which people should avail themselves to. Take yoga or meditation classes. Exercise. Surround yourself with friends and place yourself in social situations, even if you don’t feel like it.

As part of our series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce Or Breakup” we had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Intelligator, Divorce Attorney, relationship expert, and Author of Live, Laugh, Find True Love.

Sarah has been practicing divorce law for over 15 years and has seen it all when it comes to relationships Practicing exclusively Family Law since 2008, prior to opening her own practice, the Law Offices of Sarah A. Intelligator, P.C., Sarah worked for a prestigious Century City boutique firm — the Law Offices of Rosaline L. Zukerman, APC.

Sarah has also been a yoga instructor since 2000. Combining her passion for healing others with her skills as a litigator, Sarah decided to organically bridge her two worlds, coining the term: “Holistic Divorce and Family Law” to describe her style of practice. Sarah recognizes that Family Law litigation is highly emotional and deeply personal. The practice of Family Law is unique in that Family Law litigants transcend socio-economic, race or gender classifications. Divorce, domestic violence, and issues concerning child custody affect everyone equally. Family Law litigants, while in their most vulnerable states, are being asked to place their trust, their children’s lives and their financial futures in the hands of a complete stranger. Sarah views this responsibility with the utmost reverence. She appreciates that her clients are people, who, for the most part, have never been involved in any litigation, going through what is, arguably, the most difficult time in their lives. They do not know their rights and they are typically terrified. While zealously advocating for her clients, it is equally sacred a duty to Sarah to honor the human experience intrinsic to Family Law litigation — to approach all Family Law matters holistically, as opposed to viewing each human client as merely another retainer check.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

It may or may not have had something to do with watching Legally Blonde…I’m kidding (but only a little). I never intended to practice law. I started attending UCLA in 2000, as an art major. I couldn’t stand the program, so I transferred my major to English. I had no intention of going into law, but also didn’t know what I wanted to be when I “grew up.” I decided to go to law school only because I thought a J.D. was a good degree to have. I thought, “With a law degree, nobody can mess with me.” Still having zero intention of practicing law, upon graduating from law school, I took the California State Bar Exam. I passed. I needed to work to support myself, so I looked for work in the legal field. In law school, I had taken only criminal electives and clerked for the District Attorney. If I did pursue a law career, I was exclusively interested in one in private criminal defense. Except, after I passed the Bar Exam, both the District Attorney’s office and the Public Defender’s office had instituted hiring freezes and the only avenue into private practice was to first work for the District Attorney or Public Defender. My mom, who is also a Family Law attorney, knew someone who was looking for a part-time associate. With no experience in Family Law, I took the job, calling my mom daily to ask questions. For five years, I worked for this firm and absolutely hated it. I found it completely soul-crushing. Ultimately, I left the practice. While I took the time to decide what I wanted to do with my life, I represented several clients–mostly to pay the bills. In practicing law on my own, I recognized that I had the power to determine the way I practiced. Having taught yoga since 2000, I realized that my years of experience as a teacher informed my practice of Family Law. I coined the term “Holistic Divorce and Family Law.” My goal was to ensure that the human experience so intrinsic to Family Law did not get lost amidst the paperwork and litigation. It was important to me to use the tools in my yoga teacher toolbag to empower my clients through an extraordinarily emotional and difficult time in their lives. Over 15 years since I embarked on my career path, here I am, still practicing Holistic Divorce and Family Law.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

My husband often jokes that my job is like a soap opera. He isn’t wrong. Every day seems to greet me with a new surprise, dramatic saga or unexpected turn. One of the most interesting, or perhaps most memorable experiences I’ve had over the course of my career occurred during the cross-examination of a witness. The wife in the case, who had struggled with severe drug and alcohol addiction issues and was living in a sober living facility at the time, sought a Restraining Order against my client. This was, in and of itself, ironic as the parties’ children had been removed from her custody after she got so intoxicated that she became violent and was arrested. While I was cross-examining her, she started to get upset. I was getting under her skin. My last name is Intelligator. At one point, she couldn’t contain her anger. In answering my question, she referred to me as “Ms. Interrogator.” Later, out in the hallway, she walked past me and whispered the “C” word. I felt like I had successfully done my job. And in fact, I had. We won. Her request for a Restraining Order was denied.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Every aspect of my job seems like life and death, so mistakes are rarely ever funny. However, there is one innocuous mistake that I made at the very start of my career which still makes me laugh to this day. When I still worked for a firm, my boss assigned my very first case to me. I was a complete newbie. It was a move-away case, meaning, the dad (my client) was asking to relocate from California to another state with his child. This would have resulted in a change of custody. In California, whenever a party requests that the Court make or modify existing child custody orders, the parties are required to participate in mediation. It is mandatory. The attorney representing my client’s ex was extremely experienced. While we were waiting for our case to be called, he asked, “Should we have the parties go to mediation right now, so we can tell the Judge they’ve gone?” I looked at him judgmentally and responded, “Why? They obviously can’t agree. Mediation would be pointless.” He was very nice and simply responded, “Because they are required to.” Later, I learned that the parties were required to participate in mediation before the Court would hear the case and I was deeply embarrassed by my reaction to his question.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

There’s a quote by Mahatma Gandhi: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” Given the extremely stressful nature of my work, I find it imperative to strike a work-life balance. I don’t live to work. I work to live. At the same time, my job keeps me on my toes. I am constantly learning. I am always trying to empower and guide others to value each moment of their lives and themselves.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

It remains my objective to guide my clients to a better place when they leave my office than they were when they walked into it. As a divorce attorney, I don’t have access to my clients before they come to me. I meet them when they are at the precipice, if not already in the midst of a divorce. However, I realized I have the knowledge and information to keep people from ever setting foot in my office at all. In 2018, I started writing a step-by-step guide to relationships, from the perspective of a divorce attorney. Essentially working backwards and identifying the reasons relationships consistently fail, I show the reader which patterns to avoid. The book, “Live, Laugh, Find True Love: A Step-By-Step Guide to Dating and Finding a Meaningful Relationship, By a Divorce Attorney,” is a passion project. It will be available on November 28, 2023, and is currently available for preorder. My goal in writing the book was/is to help people find a meaningful relationship, as opposed to repeating the mistakes made by so many. At the beginning and, again, at the end of the book, I write: “This book is bad for business.” Indeed, I hope it will be.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell us a bit about your experience going through a divorce, or helping someone who was going through a divorce? What did you learn about yourself during and after the experience? Do you feel comfortable sharing a story?

My divorce was so instrumental to my career and life path. It allowed me to understand the intense pain and fear my clients experience. This has rendered it far easier for me to empathize with my clients–to show genuine compassion for them. In a number of ways, my own divorce was my impetus for writing “Live, Laugh, Find True Love.” I wanted to prevent others from feeling the indescribable pain that accompanies a divorce. After my own divorce, I recognized many of the same patterns–or “fail factors” as I refer to them in the book–in my own relationship. In writing “Live, Laugh, Find True Love,” not only did I draw from my years of experience as a divorce attorney, but I was able to lean on my own experience to make the book more personal and connect with the reader on a deeper level.

In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes people make after they go through a divorce? What can be done to avoid that?

They don’t take the time to explore the reasons their relationship failed. Consequently, they repeat the same mistakes. This is akin to stepping into a revolving door and continuing to go around in circles without ever getting out. To avoid this revolving door, it is important to take the time to self-reflect–whether that is through counseling or some other modalities of self-exploration. Understanding the impetus for our choices often helps us make different choices in the future.

People generally label “divorce” as being “negative”. And yes, while there are downsides, there can also be a lot of positive that comes out of it as well. What would you say that they are? Can you share an example or share a story?

I always correct myself when I refer to divorce as a “mistake.” A learning experience is never a mistake. One only makes a mistake if he or she does not learn from an experience and, accordingly, repeats the same behaviors over and over again. Divorce can be a tremendous opportunity for personal growth. The most painful experiences in life force us to undergo the most change. We take action because we never want to feel that particular type of pain again. I have watched a number of people (myself included) use their divorce as an opportunity for growth. They go on to find more meaningful and fulfilling relationships and, as a result, lead happier and more fulfilling lives.

Some people are scared to ‘get back out there’ and date again after being with their former spouse for many years and hearing dating horror stories. What would you say to motivate someone to get back out there and start a new beginning?

As humans, we are biologically programmed to seek companionship. On a primal level, we want to be in relationships. These primordial forces are so strong that they often outweigh our fear of another failed relationship.

What is the one thing people going through a divorce should be open to changing?

The way they perceive relationships.

If you had a close friend come to you for advice after a divorce, what are 5 things you would advise in order to survive and thrive after the divorce? Can you please give a story or example for each?

Go to therapy! — I have watched countless clients and friends participate in individual counseling during or following their divorces. Without fail, they come to recognize the reasons they chose their partner. These reasons are often linked to childhood traumas or past experiences. In understanding the way these childhood traumas or past experiences shaped our choice of a life partner, we understand the reason or reasons our relationship failed. In this understanding, we can find some comfort. This also empowers us to choose differently the next time around.

Things will get better–Virtually every person who walks into my office is at the lowest point in his or her life. I often remind them that this moment is the absolute worst it will ever get and that it will only improve from here on out. I have never had a single client feel worse at the end of their divorce than they did at the beginning. Time truly has a way of healing.

Take care of you–Divorce is emotionally and financially stressful. I see countless intelligent and successful individuals fall apart during their divorces. I have had several clients who felt so hopeless leading up to their divorce that they grew depressed, anxious and were even suicidal. These people never previously struggled with any mental health issues. There are a number of resources and self-care modalities, of which people should avail themselves to. Take yoga or meditation classes. Exercise. Surround yourself with friends and place yourself in social situations, even if you don’t feel like it.

Be grateful–Although it will never seem like it at the moment, your divorce is a gift. Be grateful you are separating from someone who is not the right life partner for you. If this person was right for you, you would not be getting divorced. Often, a client will not be the one to initiate the divorce. He or she very much wants to stay married to his or her partner. At the inception of the divorce, the client will ostensibly glorify his or her spouse, which only furthers the pain of the separation. With time, as the pain subsides, the client will start to realize and even articulate his or her partner’s flaws. Although he or she was too scared to initiate the divorce, the client comes to recognize that he or she was not actually compatible with his or her spouse. Divorce can be an opportunity for a new beginning–with a partner who is better suited for you. You should have gratitude for the opportunity to improve the quality of your life, and for the personal growth that will invariably accompany this tremendous life change.

Another human being does not complete you. You are complete on your own–We are all familiar with the cliche term, “my better half.” Frankly, I think it’s horrible. In a relationship, you should not perceive yourself as a half. You are a whole person. Your partner is also a whole person. Your marriage does not diminish the fact that you are complete just the way you are. Another human being does not complete you. Undeniably, when we get married, our partner becomes a part of us. It comes as no surprise that when we get divorced, it feels like a piece of us is missing. That is okay. You should mourn and grieve this very palpable loss. However, the loss does not render you incomplete.

The stress of a divorce can take a toll on both one’s mental and emotional health. In your opinion or experience, what are a few things people going through a divorce can do to alleviate this pain and anguish?

Although I always encourage people to acknowledge every emotion as it comes (as opposed to pushing it away), I also find distractions to be helpful. Emotions should be experienced and given their due reverence. Yet, sitting on the couch, staring at a wall, and wallowing in your misery do you a great disservice. This is not the same as identifying and feeling emotions as they arise throughout the day. Take a day or two to sulk when the wound is fresh. Then, go to work. Get yourself dressed. Take pride in your appearance. Make plans with friends and surround yourself with supportive loved ones. Plan an activity that may be outside of your comfort zone. Take a class. Exercise. Engage in healthy habits.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources related to this topic that you would recommend to our readers?

None that come to mind.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Plant local farms in every neighborhood so that everyone has access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

As it relates to my line of work, start a global matchmaking database that is designed to match people based on the factors that make for a successful relationship–as opposed to other arbitrary factors.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch and why?

I can think of a number of people who are no longer living, with whom I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, but living is a bit more difficult. I would have to say it would be a close tie between Nick Cave and Iggy Pop–my two favorite musicians. (My son’s middle name is Iggy, after Iggy Pop). Nick Cave is well-read and highly intelligent. I have so many questions about his musical process and think we would have a really interesting conversation about literature. Iggy Pop would likely make for a more lighthearted lunch companion. However, he is so influential and has had such an interesting life, that I would love to hear some of his personal stories.

How can our readers further follow you and your work?

They can find me on Instagram at @Sarah.A.Intelligator.Esq.

They can go to my website, lafamilylawpractice.com

They may also pre-order my book at: Live, Laugh, Find True Love: A Step-by-Step Guide to Dating and Finding a Meaningful Relationship: Intelligator, Sarah: 9781510776401: Amazon.com: Books

Thank you for these great insights and for the time you spent with this interview. We wish you only continued success!

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