Coping with Divorce in Law School

Coping with Divorce in Law SchoolThis week we welcome law tutor Sara Beller to talk about what it was like getting divorced in law school.

I started my 1L year newly engaged and ready to conquer law school. I could already see it – I was going to finish the year with a Law Review invitation and one of the top rankings in my class, all while planning the wedding of my dreams. Check, check, and check!

Next it was time to master being a 2L. No big deal, right? I mean my “to-do” list for the year was relatively short … just finish the year in the top 10%, make Law Review editor, land a summer internship, oh and did I mention get married?!

I crushed my 2L “to-do” list and was ready to tackle my last year of law school as a newlywed and newly minted Law Review editor. I had 3L year in the bag, or so I thought. Right before midterms of my Fall semester, life happened. I got divorced. Instead of studying for midterms, I was moving out of the apartment I shared with my now-ex-husband, figuring out where I was going to live, and getting further and further behind in my classes.

That year, I went from wondering if I would even pass my classes to *spoiler alert* graduating with honors. Here’s how I survived getting divorced in law school and the lessons I learned along the way:

Take Care of Yourself First

You probably read that and thought, “How can I possibly take care of myself when I have reading assignments, homework, outlines, etc. piling up?” After all, it’s no secret that law school is A LOT of work. The problem is that if you try to tackle the mountain of work in front of you when you’re mentally preoccupied or emotionally exhausted, you probably won’t have much to show it.

I learned that the hard way. I packed up my apartment and moved back in with my parents. By this point, I was really behind in my classes. I sat down at my parents’ dining room table and tried to catch up on my reading assignments. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t quiet the racing thoughts in my head: ‘How did I get here? Where did things go wrong? Will I ever get caught up? Will I even graduate on time?’ I looked up from my casebook and realized I had just “read” several pages but didn’t retain a single word. With tears in my eyes, I flipped back to where I started and tried again. That’s when my mom came up behind me, put her hand on my shoulder and said: “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” She was right and I was in no place to even try to deny it. I needed to refill my own cup first.

So, I got out a fresh sheet of paper and made a list of non-negotiables that I needed to work into my schedule. I committed to seeing a therapist or counselor twice per month, getting at least 6-8 hours of sleep per night, and eating at least two balanced and nutritious meals every day. Once I had my list, I reworked my schedule so I had time for my non-negotiables and most importantly, stuck to it.

Before long, I started to feel like myself again. I was finishing my reading assignments on time, keeping up with my outlines, and even making it to office hours. By taking care of myself first, I was able to get my studies (and life) back on track.

Ask for Help

If you’re half as stubborn as I am, asking for help is easier said than done. But the truth is, there’s no way I would have been successful that year if I didn’t suck up my pride and ask for help early on.

Between signing divorce papers, dividing our belongings, and moving, I hardly paid any attention to my class schedules. That is until a classmate sent me a text message asking if I was ready for midterms next week. Next week?! That was the moment I knew I needed to ask for help.

I reached out to my professors and explained the situation. This was the part I was dreading: I asked for reasonable extensions on my midterms and written assignments. Much to my surprise, every one of my professors was incredibly understanding and gave me an extension without hesitation. Phew! The next thing I needed to do was figure out what I missed in class when I was at the courthouse getting divorced.

Thankfully, my study partner and I had the same classes, but much like with my professors, I was less-than-thrilled to ask my study partner for help. Sure, we studied together and kept each other accountable but didn’t really share our outlines or class notes. But asking my study partner for help was pretty much my only option if I wanted to know what my professors went over during those classes I missed. I called my study partner and told him why I wasn’t in class the last couple of days. Before I could even ask for his notes from class, he said, “I’m sending you my notes, updated outlines, and case briefs. How else can I help?” Another sigh of relief.

I knew getting caught back up in my classes needed to be my priority, which meant there was one more person I needed to ask for help: my internship supervisor. By this point, I was no stranger to sucking up my pride, so I sent my supervisor an email and asked for some time off to prioritize my schoolwork. Within minutes he sent me a sincere and understanding response telling me to take as much time as I needed.

Looking back, I don’t know why I was so nervous about asking for help when I clearly needed it. Everyone was understanding and willing to help any way they could. If you find yourself in the middle of a divorce or some other life-emergency during law school, don’t panic and know that you’re not alone.

Divorce is tough on anyone, especially an already overwhelmed law student. Remember that a divorce isn’t the end of the world – it’s the start of a brand new you.


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About Sara Beller

Sara earned her J.D. from Western State University College of Law in 2016. During her time in law school, she served as a member of the Law Review and was consistently at the top of her class. She also worked as a Dean’s Fellow, which allowed her to tutor and mentor other law students.
Sara passed the California Bar Exam in 2017 on her first attempt. Immediately after passing the bar, she started working as a Deputy District Attorney and has loved every minute. She has also taught Intro to Legal Methods as an adjunct professor.
In her spare time, Sara enjoys spending time with her family and live music.

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