Real Divorce Stories - Dan Hill

Dan Hill for Smart DivorceTamsin meets Dan Hill. Dan is a specialist in emotional intelligence who originates from the US. They discuss his journey through divorce 25 years ago. Although he and his ex wife settled an amicable divorce without the need for court, he talks about the influence her lawyer had on destabilising the process. He also talks about the settlement and how the easiest option for dividing the assets is not necessarily the best. If you would like any help with your financial arrangements, please get in touch by emailing

Dan Hill, pHD is the author of 8 books. His speciality is analysing the power of emotions to shape outcomes and personalities. He's pioneering the use of facial coding in business. He has appeared on a number of US TV shows, including NBC's The Today Show. If you'd like to know more, you can visit his website at


(The transcript has been created by an AI, apologies for any mistakes)

Tamsin  0:06
Hello and welcome to the Smart Divorce podcast. This podcast is for you if you're thinking of separating already separated or going through divorce. My name is Tamsin Kane and I'm a Chartered Financial Planner will speak to some fantastic specialists who can help you to get through your divorce hopefully amicably and start your new chapter positively. Now over to today's guest Hi, and welcome to this smart divorce podcast. I'm delighted to be joined today by Dan Hill. Dan joins us from the USA and is an emotional intelligence specialist. Dan got divorced 25 years ago, and we discussed the similarities and differences between the UK and US divorce system. We also look back at things that Dan would have changed how he thought about them had he had the value of hindsight. And some of that is around how the division of the financial world was done at the time. If we can help you in any way in sorting out your finances on divorce, please don't hesitate to contact us. You can do so, at Tamsin at smart Now over to done. Hello, and welcome to this month false podcasts. I'm delighted to be joined today by Dan Hill, all the way from Minnesota in the US. Hi, Dan, how are you?

Dan 1:44
I'm doing well. Thanks.

Unknown Speaker 1:46
Excellent. Good to hear. So if we can start off by you giving us a brief introduction of who you are and your current situation.

Unknown Speaker 1:57
Sure. So I am happily married. And happy to say that and it's been a 13 year marriage at this point. My wife and I have no children. We have both been married previously. And there was no children from those marriages. And we've had no children.

Unknown Speaker 2:12
Okay, and what why is what what are you up to work wise?

Unknown Speaker 2:20
Well, I'm an author and a specialist on emotional intelligence, often known as EQ. So I do a podcast here in the States on that. And we'll be launching some workshops and probably even some tours of America based on EQ and biographies once COVID-19 happily gets in the rearview mirror.

Unknown Speaker 2:41
Fantastic. And I'm sure he'll come up in our conversation later on. So how long ago did you get divorced?

Unknown Speaker 2:51
A long time ago, it's almost 25 years kind of blows me away to to realise that it was a 20 year relationship. We started dating in high school through college, got married and live college, and 13 years of marriage. So in the past, but it was a big chunk of time.

Unknown Speaker 3:09
Yeah, certainly was that 20 years is no small is no small feat. And so from the point that you agreed to separate with your ex wife, could you tell us your story?

Unknown Speaker 3:22
Well agreed to separate is kind of an interesting way to put it because I'm not sure that's the correct way to say it. What actually happened was that she had had a new person join her staff at work. And I knew they got along well, and then increasingly, I became concerned. But I kind of I guess, in some ways, wait to see what was going to ensue. And so finally, one day, she called me at the end of my work day and said, make sure you don't carry at work at home on time, I'll have dinner ready. And I went home, and I got home. And about halfway through dinner. She says, I'm leaving you. And I'm leaving you for another man. And then she mentioned the person's name, who was indeed the colleague at work. And I think my response surprised her. I said, Can we talk about it? And she said yes, but she had already planned to meet the guy at a hotel room, because he was married and was leaving his spouse and had left the previous weekend. And so we did eventually talk but agreed to divorce is not quite the way I'd put it.

Unknown Speaker 4:30
It was more it was more to find find the story from the point that you separated. I should have it like that. I guess at some point that there's a an acknowledgement even not even if not an agreement that that the only way forward is separately, I suppose.

Unknown Speaker 4:53
It was at some point. So what happened is when I caught I was surprised with that she did go to see this person Steve They came back. And we talked and had a few other conversations. But at some point, she memorably said the line, you know, what would actually change if we stayed together, which I sort of felt like was a prefabricated statement that Steve had given her to say to me, and at that point, I kind of threw in the towel. And we had talked a bit about trying to go to marriage counselling or something. But once you made that statement, you know, we were pretty much just sliding toward what was going to be the divorce.

Unknown Speaker 5:27
Yeah. Okay. And how, how did things pan out from that point?

Unknown Speaker 5:33
On both good and bad, I mean, but the bad was not terrible. You know, we were fortunate in that we had no real debts other than the mortgage on the house to be resolved. We were both in good health, and so forth. The person I chose was someone I knew through a colleague at work. He probably wasn't the sharpest tool in the tool shed. But he was an amiable guy. And that was really how I wanted to approach the divorce I did was not seeking some sort of bitter, drawn out fight. Good friend of mine had said that he encountered his soon to be ex wife in a restaurant all the time, but they're divorced and screamed at her in the middle of the restaurant. And maybe because I'm Scandinavian by background being Norwegian American, we don't tend to be vociferous people. And that was not the way I wanted to approach my divorce, you know, some shouting match in a restaurant somewhere. So I wanted a low key approach. And the attorney I took, you know, really fit that quite well.

Unknown Speaker 6:31
Yeah. Excellent. So did you have any mediation in your divorce with your ex wife? Or was it straight to the traditional legal rate,

Unknown Speaker 6:43
I would have welcomed going the mediation route, I think that's actually a smart divorce. Nothing against lawyers necessarily. I was well served by my lawyer, or certainly well enough. But what happened is my wife had a friend who had gone through a divorce many years earlier. And actually, that person's husband at the time was the son of a fairly famous lawyer in my hometown. And she got very little in the divorce. And she advocated that my wife take a tough note attorney, which kind of delayed the process. So I took a fairly liberal lawyer, they she took someone prepared to go to battle.

Unknown Speaker 7:24
And how did that work out for her?

Unknown Speaker 7:27
Um, not so well, in that it just created a lot of delay, and probably some additional costs on her side. And eventually, my wife's mother in law, who was a wonderful person, and quite honestly called me, I think, every Saturday for half a year after the separation to make sure I was doing okay. Finally said to my wife, as being very reasonable about this, why don't you just agree to move this thing through and resolve it? And at that point, my wife said, Oh, okay. So she kind of left the advice of a friend and moved to her mom to advise them that allowed us to move to the closure.

Unknown Speaker 8:06
Yeah, I think when we were talking before we started recording, we were talking about marriage story and the effect that the lawyers had. In that case, it's certainly the case, if, for one or both of you halfway as you want to fight it, it does seem to be difficult to avoid it.

Unknown Speaker 8:25
Yeah. And here's a really clear illustration of the differences in our approaches. So in my case, I went through and I tabulated, how much financially, we contributed to the marriage, including any gifts from our parents. And I decided that she had made about 52% of the money in the marriage. And I said, Okay, I'm gonna give you 52% of the assets, however, we actually divide them up. And my attorney was a very nice guy was a little bit appalled and said, you know, you know, you can easily hold her to 50%, it's a long term, you know, relationship, you both have your own careers, there's no children involved, and she left you for another person. And I said, No, honestly, if I have to go through my whole career, and I cannot make up the 2%, that I haven't lived my life very successfully, it's really not going to make the difference. In contrast, her attorney wanted to make a big deal of my having a PhD, which I earned while my wife was, you know, involved in her career, and that that was a, you know, really significant asset for me. I would tell you that in my subsequent career, some people were impressed by my having a PhD and some people were kind of dismissive. Like it meant you were an egghead so I don't believe it was a significant asset necessarily, but the I guess I'll call it the Barracuda attorneys seem to think it was at least for several months.

Unknown Speaker 9:49
So while you were sorting out your finances, it it was it was the divisionist the financial assets. Did you take any any advice So that then legal?

Unknown Speaker 10:02
No, I did not. And that was a mistake. You know, my parents, you know, were highschool sweethearts themselves and still happily married, and they've passed their 60th anniversary. And my father was a very successful executive for the three m company, famous for post it notes, among other things, Scott. And in fact, he handled their post it note operation and printed post it notes later on globally. So he was a man who knew plenty about finances. But at that point, we were not as close as we are now. And I didn't avail myself of their input. And I would say that they didn't also didn't want to jump in if they weren't, you know, hugely welcomed, they were welcomed emotionally, I did not go to the, you know, drawer to ask for financial advice. I think I should have guessed that would have been of some help. I made at least one mistake, which we can talk about here in a moment.

Unknown Speaker 10:56
Yeah, yeah. So. So practical things you need to sort out with house and savings, investments, pensions, those sorts of things.

Unknown Speaker 11:06
It was and that's where they're mistaken. In my I was just really starting my career, I was about two, three years into, you know, really gainful employment, post the Ph. D, and starting to, you know, move up in terms of assets. But what was in my, you know, 401k, or savings plans based on my employers, was pretty nominal. Whereas my wife had been with the same company for over a decade at that point. And we had put a lot of money in there as a, you know, a way to handle tax issues, and so forth. So that was really the only nest egg. And I'm not suggesting it was huge, by any stretch of the imagination, but at least it was something and there was going to be a penalty for breaking into it, and distributing assets from it. And so I accepted that. And I think that was the mistake, because the only other assets to play with besides resolving the mortgage was really that, you know, the house had fairly new furniture to it, and there was the cars and so forth. And I end up taking the material physical assets, which of course, depreciate in time. And she took the ones that, especially given the timeframe, fairly roaring economy, appreciated, thanks to the stock market. So that was no question a mistake, because then I also subsequently ended up bringing the furniture Americans a very large country. So I brought their furniture all the way from New Jersey to Minnesota. And then when I started my own company, on in turn all the way to California. So it literally went coast to coast, more than 4500 miles and became more of an albatross than an aide I certainly in retrospect wished I'd taken the liquid assets portion

Unknown Speaker 12:48
that would have been easier to move across. There. And so from from sort of starting their legal process with your divorce, how long would you say that it took to go through,

Unknown Speaker 13:04
it took seven months because four months were were lost with the attorney digging in regarding the PhD is some supposedly magical, transformative credential. That meant the term should be different than the 52% that I was already offering. Once my mother in law intervened, then it moved more quickly, except that New Jersey I guess, maybe was going through a spate of divorces or just disorganised in the courts. But we had to reschedule a few times. And I had planned a vacation to Bolivia when it was all over and led to probably the one inadvertently very funny Freudian slip that my attorney made. One day he calls me because he wants to reschedule the actual divorce settlement date or the day in court. And he says, remind me again, when are you going to oblivion? What do you meant was when are you going to Bolivia? But after a good chuckle, I had to tell him Yes, I want to get this thing done with please don't keep agreeing to postponements?

Unknown Speaker 14:08
Probably, and it would be it would be good to say hey, how how the process works in the US, I'm not sure if it's if it's different to the UK. So a process that you went through?

Unknown Speaker 14:21
Well, in our case, the lawyers talked to my wife and I actually did meet for dinner a few occasions and a few phone calls. But you know, it wasn't what once we got past the PhD, you know, it was really an accepted foolishly, not delving into the 401k there wasn't a whole lot necessarily, you know, to take care of. So there wasn't a lot of stomach meetings or anything like that. The one advice my lawyer had, which I think was very good advice when he said when you get to the actual closure, I always advocate that you actually go to the court and you know, witness each other and you have the Judge there. He said, yeah, this is a big period of your life in particular in this case, and I think you want the, I guess the sobering reality of this almost like reverse marriage ceremony to take place. So you, it registers on you, and you can deal with it. And it's more concrete, as opposed to, you know, some strange nightmare that you had.

Unknown Speaker 15:24
Yeah, Rob, I got my. So I don't know if it's called the same in the US, but it's called the decree absolute. And which is the final kind of stamp, I suppose, of the ending of the origin. And it kind of turned up in the post? It does. It doesn't feel quite the same. I've got to say, I wouldn't have wanted to have my day in court, as it were. Because I didn't want to go down a fighting route. But yeah, I can say how actually seeing it kind of stumped in court would, you know, would make a difference here is that of talk in the UK about divorce parties? Is there any of that goes on in the US?

Unknown Speaker 16:07
I can see that online. But I, I've heard very little about that. Maybe I just don't travel in those circles. What I also saw online, which was really interesting to me, was the top five reasons why people get divorced. And number one was poor communication. And never number two was financial issues. And I thought, well, that's really interesting, because in the process of divorce, if you've already suffered from poor communication, being in the throes of, you know, anxiety and anger, and quite possibly depression, none of those are going to lend themselves to better communication, suddenly, at this point, and if there were previous financial woes, obviously, you're now sadly, at a point where you're not talking about love, you're really only talking pretty much about money, and the division thereof? Absolutely. Neither one of those two problems gets any better. Certainly moving from the marriage to the divorce itself.

Unknown Speaker 17:03
No, no, absolutely not. I think, I think finances the number one in the UK, cause of divorce. And it's, it's often not just financial difficulties, but but financial abuse as well seems to be a big problem where one person has control and power over the money and uses that against the other which is, which is a worrying possession to find yourself in, I would imagine,

Unknown Speaker 17:34
ya know, you don't want one party to be financially illiterate. And the other ones on top of all the, the, you know, transactions and the accounts and so forth. You know, I would say in our case, we were both relatively, I'll call semi naive, you know, we were informed but not as informed as we probably should have been. I have seen another thing that leads to divorces is one person does all the chores, then that might be household chores. But if they, you know, control the money and everything else, you know, obviously, that's going to be problematic. Anger, as an emotion is a lot about control issues. So it's no surprise that anger could be something that flares up in a divorce where you don't feel like you're in control of the timetable. You've got the lawyers involved, you know, controls, like the least thing you feel like you have.

Unknown Speaker 18:25
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Just looking back and a half the time that you can feed your divorce. I know you've mentioned the 401k, which I should say, I think that's your pension, isn't it?

Unknown Speaker 18:42
Yeah, that's that's where you get matching funds from the employer. Right. And there's there's tax advantages to you know, parking up to a certain limit of money there. Okay. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 18:52
So it's, it's like our occupational pensions. Okay. And so how do you feel overall, kind of now, looking back? How do you feel about the settlement now? Where you, you kind of, well, I could have done things differently, but actually, it was, it was okay, or?

Unknown Speaker 19:12
Well, it's kind of a on the one hand, and on the other hand sort of situation, I'm I would say that my strategy going in was, I wanted to protect my self identity. I wanted this to be something where we kind of went out and took the high road. In conclusion, that's how I wanted to approach it. Not some decreeing awful closure to what had been a meaningful relationship for 20 years. So I think I did an excellent job of keeping the temperature low, even if it amaze my attorney that I was going to give up 52% rather than 50. So I think I did that part really well. I think on the other hand, there was enough trepidation about just not so much economically In my case, as opposed to just self identity or this big void of this 20 year relationship going away. Along with the sadness that came with it, and I certainly had great friends who stepped in and, you know, I didn't feel isolated or lonely in that sense. But just a, you know, just such a big period of my life it was evaporating. And I think it created a degree of kind of almost a hopelessness or past tivity. And I think that's where, you know, I made the mistake, because clearly a liquid acid, as opposed to this, you know, house all the furniture to lug around, you know, was certainly a mistake. I don't think it was fatal, but it was definitely dumb. Not a smart divorce in that respect. So I did it well, but I certainly couldn't give myself you know, an A grade, I'd have to come down to a B or something, because I did make something that was definitely erroneous.

Unknown Speaker 20:54
You mentioned that, that, that you had great friends, and they they've really helped you out. That way you're going through divorce. Interestingly, a lot of people that I've spoken to who've talked about the problems that they that their friends caused, not all of them but having friends around, that seemed determined that they hadn't tried hard enough in the marriage, or, or were gossiping, or did you have any of that happening with you?

Unknown Speaker 21:26
Um, I had one friend who was like, amazed that I wasn't more bitter. And I was like, that's really not where I want to go, I don't want to poison everything. I want to move through this. I said, Yeah, I'm 36 years old, I got, you know, at least half my life, maybe two thirds of my life to go. And although a big portion of my life is, you know, gone by the wayside. You know, I don't want that to define who I could be. So I think my friends understood that that was my approach. And even if they had been inclined to come with snipping, or gossip, or anything, you know, like that, I just wasn't welcoming it. And so instead, they really focused on Should we do something together? Is anything you want to talk about? I mean, they were they were emotionally intelligent friends, and they were constructive.

Unknown Speaker 22:15
No, that sounds that sounds good. When you mentioned, were they talking to people? And you said that you you talk to your friends? Did you see canny professional help at all?

Unknown Speaker 22:28
I did. I did, I went to a marriage counsellor, almost immediately, I just thought that made sense. I didn't find that person very effective. I tried a second person who wasn't so effective. And then a friend, female friend, gave me a third suggestion, that person was wonderful. And, you know, you know, as all of them do, that they mainly peel back into, tell us about your childhood, and so on and so forth. And that's, that was really the kind of the upside for me, ultimately, because I took this also as a chance to learn about myself to learn about my emotions, to kind of basically raise my game. And the the outcome of all this is I end up launching a company that was centred on reading people's facial expressions and understanding emotions and applying it in business as an alternative way to address market research. And my wife, who was whose father had basically gone bankrupt, said to me, at one point, we when we met at her mother's funeral, she said, Oh, I never would have allowed you to start your own company, because of course, her dad had failed. And I said, Well, I guess that's what I got a divorce. I got a free licence to take, take this forward. Now, something I wish I had had a chance to talk to was Albert Einstein, because subsequently I came across a wonderful quote, someone asked Albert Einstein, what's the most powerful force in the universe? And without hesitation, he said, compound interest? That would have been good advice.

Unknown Speaker 24:01
Good advice. I know, he said, that is great advice. is brilliant. So from your perspective, I was gonna ask you how your divorce has changed things for you now, but, but it sounds as though that kind of really sort of closed one chapter and opened something completely new for you.

Unknown Speaker 24:23
You did and I really tried to approach this as a chance to learn about myself and what I you know, what could be my my path forward? You know, and sadness is an interesting emotion because, you know, the upside of sadness is you slow down, you think about the mistakes you made, it can be a very empathetic emotion. And I think it really helped me on that side. And then where it hurt me, was a degree of positivity in terms of taking the settlement turn terms and, you know, it took me a while to move on. I was not someone who wanted to Jump into new relationships. I was curious. I looked it up before our our conversation and apparently, the average person at least here in the States, remarries about three and a half years later, I waited nearly three times that before I remarried.

Unknown Speaker 25:16
So you can say marriage three and a half times.

Unknown Speaker 25:19
Oh, well, there's there's all that going on too. And I also was curious how often there's another person involved in a divorces in suing, see if my situation was unique, and it's not about 30, as many as two thirds of the relationships, have someone you know, in the wings are already stepping forward as a prospective partner, whether it leads to marriage or not for, you know, for at least one of the parties in a divorce.

Unknown Speaker 25:46
Yeah. Do you wonder if it's, if it's that they third party is there as a cause, or, or an effect of things being kind of wrong in the marriage already? Now, one person not not being entirely content.

Unknown Speaker 26:09
Whether there was one moment and probably a misstep, and it ended, mercifully quickly. So one day, I got the idea of calling this person Steve at work. I have no idea what I was going to really say. But it didn't matter, because it lasted very briefly. He just cut me off and said, I'm not the problem. And I said, well, that might be fair, you know, or not, I said, but certainly you're presenting yourself as the solution, which preemptively cuts off as discussing whether or not we could get at our own solution. And then he said, I'm I'm leaving, and he got off the phone. So that's probably just as well, I'm not sure there was anything to be had from that conversation. But it does speak to your point have a moment ago?

Unknown Speaker 26:49
Yeah. Yes. It's interesting. I'm sure that I'm sure that happens a lot. And the desire to confront the other party. Yeah, as you say, I'm

Unknown Speaker 27:01
not I'm not sure. There was no point to it.

Unknown Speaker 27:05
It's one of those there are nice things that you do in the in the moment, isn't it?

Unknown Speaker 27:12
Yeah. And I didn't I call with a head of steam anger, you know, but I really can't for the life of me looking back on it. Imagine what thought could come from that conversation. So they got it didn't go on very long.

Unknown Speaker 27:25
So if you had a friend who's in the early stages of divorce, or had had recently had the same kind of news that you taught, what what one piece of advice would you give to that friend,

Unknown Speaker 27:40
I think you really have to seek input. I have a good friend at the University of Michigan, he said it's very strange. individuals and companies both do the same thing. When they hit a down patch, they just pull in, and they don't reach out and reinvent themselves. And eventually I did. And I did have the good friends that I mentioned. But I had no resource right there. My father in terms of financial advice, and all that we became much closer once I started a business and we could confer and I could get as business advice on a daily or weekly basis. I should have availed of myself right then and there. And I guess I didn't feel like dealing with that relationship at the same time as tea with my divorce. So I just kind of parked it to the side. But I think you have to overcome fear because fear is not a lubricant, to hearing other people well, and I needed to be able to take in the advice. And even if, you know, my father was not going to, you know, take me to the cleaners on anything. So whatever fear I had regarding a not totally satisfactory relationship, I should have parked that and move toward him and taking the advice. Again, I don't think it was going to materially radically changed things, but I would have come out with a smarter divorce.

Unknown Speaker 28:58
Yeah, I think Kim fares one of those emotions that I think is the is the probably the most dominant on it. At the start of the process of divorce. The fear of the unknown have been on your own the fear of the future, the financial, you know, fear of how on earth am I going to pay the bills? I think it seems to cloud and everything that's going on?

Unknown Speaker 29:27
Oh, yeah, I think fear is the most powerful emotion because it really goes back to our survival, you know, financially, psychologically, even physically, of course, you know, it just the sense that there's something looming and we can't take care of it. And of course, the reverse of that, then is anger. So we feel like we have no control, we create this, this foe, this not realistic control. We're gonna, you know, hit out and take revenge on the other party. But you know, that's a false ability to overcome fear. You kind of have to give fears do Because it's going to be part of the process, not give into it, but also recognise its influence on you. And I think taking the anger path is, is Yeah, is a bad solution to resolving the fear you're gonna feel. Yeah,

Unknown Speaker 30:13

Unknown Speaker 30:14
Do you feel that having come through your divorce managing to be amicable and kind to each other even if you've not necessarily remained friends, but there's an amicable separation? Do you think that's helped in your ability to move forward with your life?

Unknown Speaker 30:35
Oh, I absolutely think so. You know, I think it's, for me, it was a it was a badge of honour that I wanted to ended as gracefully as we could. My wife ended up actually taking the house when we couldn't sell it quickly, and I wanted to be gone and move away from the situation. So there was an advantage there, I stayed in good contact for at least two or three years with her family and Tony decided that that really didn't make sense anymore. But they were very gracious in turn, you know, emotions are contagious. And although anger will have some legitimacy, I get I think to give into it just leads to a blood feud that leaves everyone, you know, splattered with symbolic blood. So I'm really happy the route I took.

Unknown Speaker 31:20
That's good. Is there anything else that I should have asked? You?

Unknown Speaker 31:24
know, I think you were quite thorough. You know, there's some real drag out divorces very complicated. My sister has six children and got divorced to the point when she had four. And, you know, that was a much more difficult divorce in so many respects. Mine was a bit better. But again, even there, Did I make a mistake? Start spite being supposedly a smart guy. Yeah, I did. So we all can learn.

Unknown Speaker 31:50
We come in date. Dan, thank you so much for joining me today. It was really good to have you as one of my guests.

Unknown Speaker 31:56
Absolutely. My pleasure. Thank you so much.

Unknown Speaker 32:03
Thank you for listening to this mark divorce podcast. If you'd like details of our guests today or of myself so you can get in touch. Please check out the programme notes. Many thanks. See you again soon.

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