HOW THIS MATRIMONIAL ATTORNEY TURNED HER OWN EXPERIENCE WITH DIVORCE INTO A PLATFORM THAT HELPS MEN AND WOMEN GOING THROUGH EVERY STAGE AND TYPE OF SEPARATION
BY AMANDA McCOY • PHOTOS © AMESSÉ PHOTOGRAPHY
It was personal experience that fueled Karolina Dehnhard, a matrimonial attorney and partner with Short Hills-based law firm Budd Larner and founder of the divorce concierge platform Divorce Dynasty, to turn obstacles into opportunities. Born in Poland, Dehnhard was only six years old when she immigrated to the Big Apple with her mother, and quickly learned the importance of perseverance and grit early in her formative years. “We arrived in the United States with only one suitcase, two hundred dollars, and the promise of living out the American dream,” she recalled. “These early years were filled with turmoil and uncertainty. I had to overcome numerous obstacles and adversities. I learned early on that nothing in life came easy.”
Dehnhard grew up with an unshakable desire to learn and excel. After earning both her undergraduate and graduate degrees, she accepted a position as the assistant executive director of a New Jersey nonprofit organization. Not long after, she met and married an aspiring attorney and politician, believing at the time that she had found her happy ending.
“I was 30 when I found out that my happily ever after was indeed a fairy tale,” she said. “After a few tumultuous months and feeling unprepared to make many of the difficult decisions integral to the process, I found myself divorced. Regardless of the reasons, it was a sobering event in my life.”
When the divorce was finalized, Dehnhard emerged with an unbridled sense of determination.
“I decided to turn my divorce into a law degree.” Not long after the ink on her divorce papers had dried, the tenacious Dehnhard started law school. Two and a half years later, she graduated with honors in the top one percent of her class from New York Law. She then clerked for the Honorable Rosemary Ramsay, now the presiding judge in the Civil Division in Morris County, who quickly became her mentor.
“I recognized the need to surround myself with strong like-minded women who would not take ‘no’ for an answer,” said Dehnhard.
In 2011, Dehnhard joined the prestigious Short Hills law firm Budd Larner, P.C. and found her calling as a family law attorney and matrimonial litigator. After only a few years with the firm, she was promoted to counsel. Today, she is a partner in the family law department, where she focuses exclusively on matrimonial and family law matters. The attorney represents clients battling complex financial issues, international custody rights, immigration status for divorcing parents and their children, addressing and enforcing foreign divorce decrees, alimony rights, and other matrimonial issues. Although she was proud of her efforts with the firm, the divorcee still felt there was more she could do to help people (women in particular) struggling with the complexities of the divorce process thus the concept of Divorce Dynasty was born.
Divorce Dynasty is a platform comprised of a group of attorneys, doctors, accountants, bankers, therapists, financial professionals, realtors, life coaches, wellness and beauty experts, insurance professionals, alternate investment specialists, private investigators, and a matchmaker each a champion of their respective roles in the divorce process. Dehnhard, drawing from her own experience with divorce and recalling how unprepared she felt to make important decisions attendant to ending a marriage, recognized that, like her years ago, her clients often required the services of various professionals during and after their divorce.
“As a woman going through divorce, I relied on my divorce attorney immensely,” she explained. “The process was all new, and I did not know the language. I had no idea what the difference was between a comparative market analysis versus a formal appraisal of our homes, or which one was better. I did not have a working knowledge of passive versus active interests, or how to start to understand the valuation of a business. Add tax issues, alimony buyouts, and premarital exemptions, and I was completely overwhelmed.
“I remember thinking that I wished there was a ‘place’ I can turn to talk to vetted professionals who would have my best interest at the forefront,” she continued. “At the time, and given that my then-husband handled the finances and investments, I did not feel comfortable in speaking with ‘our’ go-to professionals. Years later, as a matrimonial attorney, I recognized this to be a common theme with clients that walk through my door. In response to my clients’ repeated questions of who should they call and admitting to losing trust in their spouse’s financial planners, accountants, bankers, or realtors, I created Divorce Dynasty to provide them, and others, with concierge services.”
By integrating the talents of different industry professionals, Dehnhard created a place where individuals, whether entering the preliminary stages of separation or navigating life post marriage, could come for competent and comprehensive services. She offers clients the expertise of not only the organization’s vetted network but also her Budd Larner colleagues, such as employment, bankruptcy, and civil attorneys. Many of these professionals, Dehnhard explained, have first-hand experience or a discerning understanding of life after separation, the divorce process itself, and the important things clients must consider in the years that follow. Collectively, they aim to leverage their experience to provide the best outcome available, and to help clients as they face the often difficult decisions that lie ahead.
“Our ultimate goal is knowledge and empowerment,” she said. “We aim to ensure that every client is educated, prepared, and poised to prosper. I do not want any person, whether for lack of knowing the language of the country in which they reside or because they are afraid in the context of a marriage or other relationship personal or professional to feel lost, unprepared, or stifled. Not everyone will need each professional on the platform, as each case is different, but I constantly assess my cases, evaluate my clients’ needs, and look within my network to determine which professionals and sectors are missing.”
The platform, which began with 10 sectors, is now 25 people and growing. Divorce Dynasty is in talks to expand to California, Florida, Chicago, and Texas.
“Access to the right professionals to take the unknown out of divorce is a countrywide issue,” said Dehnhard. “Education is not limited by state lines. The goal is to create Divorce Dynasty platforms led by other divorce attorneys and their networks of professionals across the country.”
Since its inception, the mission and services of Divorce Dynasty have expanded. By listening to her clients, her network, and response from the community, Dehnhard learned that people divorce more than just their spouses.
“People divorce their business partners or other bad habits. Life throws more curveballs than just a failed marriage,” she said. “Many deal with the death or disability of a spouse or child, or need the right services and support system to deal with the unknown. Today, Divorce Dynasty provides concierge services to address the three D’s death, divorce, or disability and serves as a one-stop go-to platform where individuals are connected to the appropriate professional or support system to address their particular issue or need.”
Dehnhard’s experience has frequently been called upon for radio talk shows, television shows, and news programs. As the host of two radio shows, The Law Matters and There’s Always a Way Out (the latter in Polish), she spreads her message of empowerment, underscoring the need for education. The Polish-born businesswoman hasn’t forgotten her roots, and she recently launched the Polish American Chamber of Commerce for the Northeast and traveled to Poland to launch the Polish division of the chamber. More than 300 people attended, including heads of state, business leaders, and entrepreneurs. “I’m enthusiastic about connecting individuals and businesses across the pond,” she added.
When asked what’s next, she replied, “The sky’s the limit.” As for Divorce Dynasty, Dehnhard is organizing the first Divorce Dynasty Conference on the first of May at the Park Avenue Club in Florham Park, taking the stage with law partner David Tawil to present “Gender Bending: Divorce From Both Sides of the Bed.” The conference will highlight the differences in how men and women approach divorce.
“I am excited to showcase the incredible team of professionals which comprise the Divorce Dynasty platform and offer a day of education and, mostly importantly, the tools people need to avoid making decisions with a blindfold on.”