Welcome back to another episode of the Bad Girls Bible Podcast. Today on the show we are talking to Vikki Ziegler, a practicing attorney of matrimonial law and civil litigation.
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Vikki is also a television personality known for her commentaries on high-profile cases, an active volunteer for women’s and children’s charities, and the innovator of a unique and realistic approach to “divorce management.”
In her career, Vikki brings together her insights as a divorce attorney along with her childhood experience of her own parents’ divorce, and years of careful listening to clients and friends to give pragmatic advice to those currently going through divorce.
Vikki’s approach seeks to de-stigmatize divorce by allowing its empowering aspects to triumph and her concrete pre-marital tips help couples avoid the pitfalls that can lead to divorce. In today’s episode we are going to talk about the strategies you can use to keep your relationship solid and prevent divorce in the first place.
- Vikki’s childhood and how it shaped her life to becoming an attorney.
- The most unique divorce case that Vikki has had.
- Why divorce can sometimes be a good outcome from a bad situation.
- The main reasons why people get divorced.
- Building a strong marital foundation; get emotionally and financially naked.
- Importance of vulnerability and communication for building trust in relationships.
- How childhood wounds shape your ability to be a partner.
- Advice for couples who are on the brink of a breakup or divorce.
- Why volunteer work and helping other people is key for those going through divorce.
“I tell everybody, marriage is just like a job. Whatever you give in, you get back.” [0:08:54.1]
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“Things change and you have to have a strong marital foundation before you walk down the aisle in order to weather these storms.” [0:10:43.8]
“If you’re not happy, you can’t make someone else happy.” [0:15:44.8]
“99% of the time I recommend that everyone should have a prenup, because nobody knows what the future holds.” [0:17:34.8]
Resources, extended show notes and Vikki’s contact details can be accessed by clicking here.
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Sean Jameson: Today on the podcast, I’m talking to Vikki Ziegler. Vikki is a practicing attorney of matrimonial law and civil litigation. She’s also a television personality known for her commentaries on high-profile cases. She brings together her insights as a divorce attorney, her childhood experience of her own parents’ divorce, and years of careful listening to clients and friends to give pragmatic advice to those currently going through divorce, as well as helping people prevent it in the first place. Today, we’re going to talk about the strategies you can use to keep your relationship solid and prevent divorce in the first place.
Vikki, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Vikki Ziegler: Oh, it’s fabulous. Thank you for having me.
Sean Jameson: I’d love to start off with a little bit about you and your background, if that’s okay? Maybe first with your childhood and how that shaped you and then maybe a little bit on how that led you to becoming an attorney.
Vikki Ziegler: Absolutely. I have a bit of a unique circumstance and childhood, unlike most people that have been affected by divorce when their parents get divorced at a young age. I was about 9 or 10-years-old when my parents decided to divorce. They came into a room, I’ll never forget it, a rainy gloomy day and said that the marriage is over, we are headed for divorce.
I didn’t know that that would mean I was going to be embroiled in a custody battle and talking to a judge with a robe to try to help determine my fate. I think that that experience where I helped broker a 50/50 custody deal where my dad would stay in the house and my mom would move in a three-mile radius and I would stay at the same school, would shape my career, my obsession, shall we say, for the love to help people find happiness and then unravel that and untie their knot if they’re not happy.
So I can tell you that I have experience on all ends of the spectrum professionally and personally, with respect to divorce and what makes relationships work and what doesn’t.
Sean Jameson: Well, I’m really looking forward to talking about that specifically, what makes relationships work and then also avoiding those things that mess up relationships. But before we started recording, you told me you had this incredible story about a couple who got divorced and then remarried three times.
Vikki Ziegler: Yes, can you believe it?
Sean Jameson: What happened there?
Vikki Ziegler: Oh my, a lot. I know we don’t have a couple days to record, but I can tell you that this couple got married very young. I think that’s the first sign of a challenge that happens, because when you’re young in your 20’s, right? You’re not developed, I don’t think fully emotionally. You don’t know who you really are and you don’t know where your career is going to take you. Sometimes we have these childhood wounds that we haven’t worked on. That was their first, I think mistake.
It became fatal, because they’ve got divorced in their early 30;s for the first time. They went and sowed their oats, because again, they were so young that they didn’t have many partners and I think we’re a little naive when it comes to relationships and how to develop them and didn’t have the best parental experience in their own homes to see what a healthy relationship looked like. Then they got married for a second time in their 30’s and they realized –
Sean Jameson: Were they apart for long before they remarried?
Vikki Ziegler: Three years.
Sean Jameson: Three years. Okay.
Vikki Ziegler: Yeah. They got to develop themselves, get better in their careers, date a little and then, I guess they saw that the grass is not always greener. They came back together and actually remarried. They dated for a little while and they remarried. Then they had two children together. As anyone knows listening, and I’m not sure if you do, but when you have a child, it changes the entire dynamic of a marriage, mostly for the better, sometimes for the worse if they’re not in a strong marital foundation relationship, and realize that after children came, they still were not on the same page. They did love each other and they felt connected, but they realized that they were better off as parents, not lovers. They decided to get divorced five years later.
Sean Jameson: Okay. Wow. It’s starting to sound a little expensive.
Vikki Ziegler: Yes, yes. I represented the wife in both divorces. Unfortunately, I did feel bad because I always do. So I did give her a discount. But then funnily enough, six years later, they both decided that they were soulmates, they were going to get into therapy and work on it for the children and themselves and they decided that they wanted to be together and live under one roof. They’ve been married. They got married for a third time and they are still, from what I understand, happily wedded and enjoying their lives together now.
So that’s one of my most unique stories in 21 years of practicing family law that I can tell you, where I saw all the ups and downs of a family in desperate need of help, therapy, not getting to know each other when they were really comfortable with who they are to being too vulnerable. Then quite frankly coming full circle, after they developed and matured and figured out what went wrong and now they’re on the right path.
Sean Jameson: Do you think in a perverse way, maybe actually getting divorced two times and then remarrying a third time could actually be good for the relationship?
Vikki Ziegler: I think very rarely, but I think here it did. I think also, people have to know that you’re not afraid to leave. I think divorce is easy in the sense that you can just say, “I’m leaving,” and file a complaint. But a lot of people don’t have the guts, or don’t have the ability to leave a marriage. Sometimes they stay in it unhappily for whatever reason, it could be financial, could be emotional.
So I also think for people that are getting divorced, I look at it, it could be a good thing. They got married to the wrong person, they’re not happy and it give them a next chapter. I don’t always think it’s a bad thing.
Sean Jameson: I’ve heard that said before that there’s no unhappy divorces. I mean, you can take that both ways. I think, yeah. If you’re in an unhappy relationship, potentially divorce is actually a positive thing to come out of it.
Vikki Ziegler: Yeah. Most people don’t understand that. But trust me, I have seen people in such miserable circumstances, abused and emotionally, physically just not, you know, losing themselves in the marriage and they – their light turns back on after the divorce and once they get their feet grounded again. So I’ve seen amazing transformations with people going through a difficult time.
Sean Jameson: I guess, besides then abuse, why do people get divorced? Is it usually financial, or is it people cheating, or is there more to it? Is there something deeper?
Vikki Ziegler: Yeah. There’s so many studies, Sean. I’ve seen finances as the number one saying and reason why people divorce. I think it’s also from an emotional standpoint, I think communication is a big, big problem in relationships, because in the beginning you’re in love and I love you and you look so sexy and everything’s great. Then you have a fight and you say something that you can’t take back and then there’s resentment that builds up and not telling someone how you feel, but just getting back at them. Then that to me denigrates the relationship and compromises the respect that people have for one another. So I think that’s one of the big-ticket items. I think cheating is a symptom, not the cause. I think people cheat because they’re unhappy.
Sean Jameson: Sure. Yeah, I think that’s accurate. I think that’s accurate.
Vikki Ziegler: Yeah. I mean listen, if you’re in love and happy, you’re not going to go cheat unless you have a sex addiction, let’s be honest, or you have some type of other issue. I think that people go cheat, because they feel trapped and they’re not happy, instead of talking to the person and going to work on their issues, I think that people want to take the easy way out sometimes and you know what? Just I tell everybody, marriage is just like a job. Whatever you give in, you get back. If you want to clock in a lot of hours and put the work in, then you’re going to get the rewards of a long-lasting marriage and happiness. If not, you know what? Things are going to slip, things are going to happen. Unfortunately, you’re not going to get the most out of your marriage and it may not last.
Sean Jameson: I absolutely agree with you. I think a lot of people get blinded by the big day and the romance element of it. Then they totally forget, actually day-to-day it’s a lot more – I guess, it can be a lot more banal and you have to plan for that.
Vikki Ziegler: Oh, a 100%. I’ve written a book, a few books, but the most important one I wrote a journal and it’s not planning for the day, it’s planning for your lifetime. I think people get so waylaid and bogged down in the details of the 24 hours that is the celebration, which is lovely. However –
Sean Jameson: Getting a perfect, perfect set of pictures for Facebook and Instagram.
Vikki Ziegler: Yeah. I mean, yeah, good. I mean, great. But at the end of the day, what are we really doing? Why are we all walking down the aisle? Why are we taking these vows? It’s to for better or worse and for sickness and in health, it’s investing your emotional self and your financial self in with somebody else and trying to work cohesively, right? You’re not an independent thinker.
In a marriage, you have to compromise. While you have your own thoughts, you also have to respect the other person’s. Not everyone can do that, not everyone chooses the right partner to be able to do that. I think what people most of the time forget is people change. The person you married at 20 isn’t the person that you married at 30. Also, you change for good or for bad. You have somebody pass away that’s close to you, you get a new job, you get promoted. I mean, whatever it may be, things change and you have to have a strong marital foundation before you walk down the aisle in order to weather these storms.
Sean Jameson: What would you say then is that foundation, or if someone’s listening they’re about to get married, or they are married and they’re wondering, they’re like, “We do fight. The relationship is okay. It’s a bit rocky sometimes,” but they want to strengthen it. Strengthen it? Am I pronouncing that right? Curse my Irish accent.
Vikki Ziegler: Yes, I love it. You could talk to me all day. I love it.
Sean Jameson: But they want to make it better. What advice would you have there that’s practical and pragmatic?
Vikki Ziegler: Yeah. I think the first thing is get emotionally and financially naked.
Sean Jameson: What do you mean by that?
Vikki Ziegler: I mean, you better tell about all the skeletons in the closet, you better let out everything that’s gone wrong in your past that may creep up and be honest with things that you have challenges with. If you can’t get vulnerable, you can’t work on those things and be fair and honest with the person that you’re going to marry. Why did your other relationships go sour? These are the things that build people closer and give you that trust that you can say, “Wow, you chose me because of this, but I also want to work on this.”
Because I feel we’re all work in progress and unless you’re working on yourself all the time to improve all the aspects of yourself, those things that are under lying hidden issues and deficiencies are going to come up one day in some facet. Your spouse is going to say, “Wait a second, I didn’t even know you had this problem, or how come you didn’t tell me about this?” You want to be honest. To me, that’s the emotional part of getting naked.
The financial part is, what is your relationship with money and do you have a credit card balance? Or do you owe people money? Or can you not save? Or are you a spender? These are things important to discuss, because your future depends on it. Are you going to rent, or are you going to buy? Those are just – You think basic pieces of information that people talk about, but you’d be shocked, Sean. They don’t.
Sean Jameson: I completely agree because the thing I just can’t get over is that people will agonize over, “Should I go for that coffee today?” Then they’ll take a day or two to choose the house they’re going to live in and it’s going to cost them, that they’ll pay off for the next 30 years. It’s getting those priorities, which is not necessarily a fun thing to talk about, but it’s just so serious and it’s just prevents friction, I think, in the long run.
Vikki Ziegler: Yeah. Agreed. Yeah, a 100%. Listen, it’s not romantic. I’ll talk about prenuptial agreements. They’re not romantic, they’re not sexy, but they’re necessary. To me, this dovetails into communication. If you start off your marriage without communicating about the important issues, what happens when something really serious happens? How are you going to pay for a loved ones funeral if you have too much debt? Who’s going to stay home and raise a child and who wants to go back to work? Where do you want to live? In an area that’s expensive, or do you want to try to live in a less expensive area? I mean, a neighborhood. Do you want your children to go to private school or public school? I mean, I sit with people that are getting married and they’ve never talked about these issues. It’s almost I look like I’m an alien. I’m like –
Sean Jameson: A doomsayer, almost. It’s just being practical.
Vikki Ziegler: I’ve seen too many people go down the wrong path, have divorced thousands of people. Had they had spoken about big topics and challenging topics before they got married, some of them may have been saved, or at least would have known what they were getting into. I think people resent their spouses, because they don’t know that they had credit card debt.
I just was on a call with somebody and a client said to me, “I am living with a man that I do not know. I’ve been married for 25 years. I had no idea about X, Y, Z. I was living a lie.” You know what? That doesn’t help a divorce, right? The acrimony there is huge. Sometimes to be imperfect, sometimes makes the other person feel as though they can help them and make sure that perhaps that they can grow together, not knowing makes somebody feel that they’ve been deceived and that’s not know where you want to be in a relationship.
Sean Jameson: Yeah, and I think showing someone that you’re imperfect actually builds a lot of trust, that you’re not some perfect beacon of saintliness. We all have flaws. We all make mistakes, but being able to talk about them is important.
Vikki Ziegler: Yeah, we do. You know what? I feel I like to save the world. I want to help everyone. If somebody wants to help me, it’s not about me being imperfect, it’s about wanting – they want me to be my best and I want me to be my best. I think as you get older, instead of trying to pretend that you’re perfect, it’s almost a release. “I’m not perfect, here’s the red flag, I want help, I can say sorry, I can compromise, I’m in a healthy space.” I think you know what? That’s probably, for your listeners, one of the most important things. If you’re not happy, you can’t make someone else happy.
Sean Jameson: I think if you’re not happy you can’t say to your partner that, “Hey, I’m not happy. I need some help here,” that’s also I think potentially even a worse place to be in.
Vikki Ziegler: Yeah. You can attract a team and a partnership if you’re in a bad place and a dark place. It’s not fair to the other person and it’s not fair to yourself. I feel as though people have so many childhood wounds and they don’t resolve them. They put them under the rug. It’s whether it’s the way you were treated, your relationship with your mother, your relationship with your father, were you bullied. Whatever it may be, I believe that that shapes you will be a partner and I think that you need to acknowledge it, work on it, get therapy, journal, read self-help books, listen to podcasts and radio shows like yourself, and try to get to the bottom and the root of why you behave a certain way.
You will be free and you will free up an emotional space for your partner. To me, that is one of the most invaluable lessons that I learned as a divorce attorney and personally, that has really changed my life. I think people should really take heed and take inventory of their childhood and what they can work on.
Sean Jameson: You mentioned prenups. What are your thoughts on that? When are they good and when are they bad?
Vikki Ziegler: 1% of the time, they’re bad. Bad, meaning they’re not necessary, because we know two people are either both broke and no prospect of having any money. Or that you know what, they don’t care to ever fight about anything because they have debt. That’s probably what I would recommend not to have one. 99% of the time I recommend that everyone should have a prenup, because nobody knows what the future holds. You could have no money now and you can win the lottery, you can make a lot of money in business, your partner could leave you for whatever reason, you could be trying to protect family wealth and generational wealth, you don’t know if you’ll inherit money. The unknown factors to me make a good argument and case for people to execute them.
Also, you talk about all your assets and talk about your belief system and how you feel that you want your assets to go. It also talks about what’s going to happen in death. So I believe it’s a conversation starter. It’s not easy, not fun, but absolutely necessary.
Sean Jameson: I love it. Like all this advice you’re giving, it’s just so practical. No, no, but it really is. It’s not this get a glass of wine, go to watch a sunset together, it’s actually the nuts and bolts of how to avoid years of heartache and pain. It’s amazing.
Vikki Ziegler: Oh, thank you. I work really hard at helping everyone around me that I think, because I worked on myself, right? I don’t think I can be effective, unless I really understand and have walked in my clients shoes and all the people around me. I practice what I preach. I feel like the rewards of working on things — t’s nice to have a sunset, it’s nice to be romantic, it’s nice to go away for the weekend. Those are lovely things, but those are one – to me, they’re one-offs.
Work is work. Work, you just don’t work once in a while. You work every day. I tell my clients and all the people around me and I as well, I work on me, my being, all the things that are important to me and look, I think we’re only getting better as we get older and smarter and wiser, but you have to put in the work, you have to really come back and look at yourself what works, what doesn’t and look at your relationship. How can I make the other person better? Can I do more things for them, instead of just making it about yourself?
Sean Jameson: If you are talking to a friend, or talking to a couple and they feel they’re on the brink of divorce, or it’s just a relationship and they’re on the brink of breaking up, do you have any advice? What would you say to those people to help them prevent it, or to actually go through with it because you see that the writing’s on the wall?
Vikki Ziegler: Great question. The first thing I ask people is individually if I was mediating, is are you still in love with X? The minute they tell me yes affirmatively and the other person says the same thing. I would stop and say, “Okay, then your marriage is worth saving. I don’t know what the underlying issues are, which I would write on a piece of paper. You tell me what the issues are and bullet-point them and you do the same. Exchange that piece of paper.” Then say, “All right, are you willing to work on any of those issues?”
If you can say yes to any of them, I would get them to a therapist immediately to commit to 60 days of intense therapy to work on their issues. Then I would say come back in 60 days and tell me where you stand.
Sean Jameson: Great. So if a couple, I guess then came to and they didn’t love each other, then you’d probably advised them to proceed, I guess?
Vikki Ziegler: Yeah. Then in the reverse, if somebody said, “I love you, but I don’t love you anymore.” X is in love, Y isn’t, then that can’t work. If there’s no chance of falling back in love if they’ve moved on, some people more in the marriage while they’re in the marriage, okay. They build themselves and they’re ready to move on and the other person doesn’t even know. They’re stumped and they’re trying to reconcile. That’s unfortunate, but I know I can’t save this marriage.
I would tell the people like, “Listen, you have two options. You can have a war, or you can have a peaceful divorce. I choose peaceful, because you keep your money, I don’t. You have integrity and be role models if there’s children or other people watching. If not, a war means this: you’re going to spend a lot of money, it’s going to be ugly, there’s going to be mudslinging and you have a lot to lose because you don’t know you’re going to take a crazy position, the other one takes another crazy position and you land somewhere in the middle and the lawyers are the only ones that make the money. So you have those choices. You are now armed with information, have been educated. Sit back, think about this as a business deal, shelf your emotions, and see if you can just focus on the issues at hand and move the matter alone quickly.”
Sean Jameson: Would you have advice, then obviously you can say “shelf your emotions”, but obviously to a person going through divorce, especially if it’s a bit – if one partner has been a little bit vicious or vindictive, what can they do? Is there anything you’d advise them to do?
Vikki Ziegler: Oh, yeah. Listen, “shelf their emotions” is a cliché term, right? We focus on the business terms, because that’s how a business person works, because that’s what a divorce really is. However, we have that additional layer of the emotional acrimony, which is the hardest. I always try to tell people, “Now, you have to go into a self-preservation mode. You need to get the therapy on your own, you need to talk to only specific family members, or one or two friends. You listen to no one else, because everyone else has a different story and a different circumstance. You don’t want to confuse your case with others, and I want you to start going to a soup kitchen, or a battered woman shelter, or whatever charity you believe and you start digging in whenever you can to help other people, because there’s nothing like forgetting what’s going on with you when you see other people going through much worse times.”
Giving back gives people going through a divorce some type of fuel. I can’t explain it, but it’s done wonders for a lot of my clients. So immerse yourself in journaling, get your emotions out, cry, do what you need to do, but write it out. It helps relieve a lot of people going through a divorce with their feelings, their heavy burden on their shoulders. Those are some of the things that I would recommend.
Sean Jameson: That’s fantastic. I absolutely agree. I think when you can see – when you can help other people and when you can see that other people are suffering too, I think in a way that can lighten the load and actually reduce your suffering, which is a whole other topic.
Vikki, this has been fantastic. Thanks so much for coming on the show.
Vikki Ziegler: Thank you. You are too. Great questions.
Sean Jameson: I’m just a little bit conscious of finishing up and making sure I don’t take too much of your time. So I’m just wondering, if people would like to get in touch with you, or find out more about you or your books, where can they go?
Vikki Ziegler: Oh, great. Yeah, they can go on my website. It’s vikkiziegler.com. V-I-K-K-I-Z-I-E-G-L-E-R. That’s my handle for Instagram and Twitter and LinkedIn and anywhere else they want to find me. You can just Google me and my e-mail pops up and anyone that has any questions or concerns, I’m always willing and love hearing from listeners and anyone that would of course be associated with you and a fan of yours. So, absolutely.
Sean Jameson: Fantastic. I’ll include all those links in the show notes. Vikki, thanks so much for coming in the show.
Vikki Ziegler: Thank you, and if I’m in Ireland, I’m coming to say hello.
Sean Jameson: Please do.
Vikki Ziegler: Take care.
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You're also going to hear a story of how one woman used them to overcome a potential divorce and make her marriage stronger and more passionate than she ever thought possible.
You're also going to hear a story of how one woman used them to overcome a potential divorce and make her marriage stronger and more passionate than she ever thought possible.