When she was 6, Karolina Dehnhard came to the United States from Poland with her mother, a suitcase, two hundred dollars and an American Dream. From an early age, she learned that nothing in life came easily; the same message would be driven home again when, at age 30, her marriage dissolved.
That didn’t stop Karolina, who completely reinvented her world by changing careers and founding a divorce resources group for women not unlike herself. Divorce Dynasty is her brainchild, a group of attorneys, doctors, accountants, therapists, financial pros, realtors and life coaches who guide women through each step of divorce proceedings. Karolina’s mission: to counsel and empower women facing one daunting, critical decision after another.
Karolina was honored in 2016 as one of the Leading Women Intrapreneurs for her contribution to the advancement of women in the corporate world, and this past February, she was honored by the Trade & Investment Section of the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in New York for her work toward global women’s empowerment. While in the process of writing a book, MRS to ESQ, about her journey, Karolina gave Bare Necessities the scoop on successfully starting over.
Q: How did you arrive at this point in your career?
A: I earned my undergraduate and graduate degrees and began my career as the assistant executive director of a non-profit. I met, then married, an aspiring attorney and politician. I was 30 when I found out my “happily ever after” was a fairytale. After a few tumultuous months, and feeling unprepared to make many of the difficult decisions involved in the process, I found myself divorced. It was a sobering experience but, undaunted and driven harder than ever, I decided to turn my divorce into a law degree.
Finishing law school in the top one percent of my class, I recognized the need to surround myself with strong, like-minded individuals. Following a clerkship, I joined the prestigious law firm of Budd Larner, P.C., in Short Hills, New Jersey, founded in 1934. I found my calling as a family law attorney and matrimonial litigator and rose through the ranks quickly. Today, after six years with the firm, I serve as Counsel to the Family Law Department and continue to focus on family law.
Helping women protect their assets and become the best they can be isn’t just an important part of my career; it’s my calling. I re-wrote my fairy tale.
“Helping women protect their assets isn’t just an important part of my career; it’s my calling. I re-wrote my fairy tale”
Q: Why did you found Divorce Dynasty?
A: This collaboration is a platform for me to help those who find themselves in need of direction, support or advice, legal or otherwise. I don’t want any woman—for lack of knowing the language in the country in which she resides, or because she’s afraid in a marriage that should be safe—to feel unprepared or stifled. Internationally, to that end, I’ve worked on a think tank promoting emerging female entrepreneurs in Ireland, and I’ve met with Cuban women finding their voices after decades of suppression. Locally, I work with women leaders and entrepreneurs through events, seminars and speeches on topics like domestic violence and asset protection. I have two weekly radio programs, “The Law Matters,” and a Polish radio show, “There is Always a Way Out.”
Q: What drives you?
A: A desire to help others and make a difference is at my core. I cringe when I see people being taken advantage of. In the context of divorce, I see so many women with a lost look in their eyes. I want to ensure that we are educated and treated like equal partners when it comes to the financial aspects of our relationships.
“I want to ensure that we are educated and treated like equal partners when it comes to the financial aspects of our relationships”
Q: What does a typical day look like?
A: Nonstop movement.
Q: What challenges have you had to overcome?
A: Law school was a second career for me. Catching up to where other attorneys my age are in their careers has been both a challenge and a motivation. I feel proud to say that I caught up!
Q: How do you balance so many important competing demands on your time?
A: A carefully thought-out schedule. I always weigh where I should focus my time and what will yield the greatest return.
Q: What do you wish your clients knew before they end up in your office?
A: Be the CEO of your own house. Know how your bills are paid, how your assets are titled, what debts exist. Do you have life insurance? What kind and how much? My best advice is to check your credit regularly, save for retirement from the youngest age possible and make a budget and stick to it.
Q: What does empowerment mean to you?
A: Providing education and opportunity to others. By giving tools, we help build.
Q: What are you most passionate about outside of work?
A: Travel. Seeing, tasting, smelling and experiencing new things enables us to grow so that we can be better people.
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO KAROLINA
Guilty pleasure: Facials.
Weakness for: Chubby babies.
Greatest extravagance: Christian Louboutins.
Best way to destress: I spray eucalyptus on my pillow before going to sleep.
Favorite vacation destination: Anywhere in Europe. I love all the history.
Best trait: My ability to make people open up.
Worst trait: I’m a Taurus…I have a bad temper!
Weekend activity: Brunch.
Favorite TV show: The Sopranos. I watch it all the time.
Fashion fixation: I’m obsessed with the sexy swimwear line! The styles are stunning on so many different body types. Owning your body is key to confidence.
Proudest moment: Taking to the airwaves in Brooklyn on a Polish radio station, talking to the very women who, in my eyes, are my mother 30 years ago when we first came to this country.
Biggest regret: Going right when I should have gone left.
Best compliment: Clients who come back years later to share their post-divorce accomplishments and thank me for being the catalyst for change.
Secret to living well: Always be grateful, each and every day.
Goal you’re working toward: Taking Divorce Dynasty global, because empowering women has no boundaries.
Can’t stand: Betrayal.
Greatest strength: My work ethic.
In a word: Relentless.
Brooke is the editor of this here blog. In a previous life, she was an editor at Good Housekeeping and O, The Oprah Magazine. Brooke has written for Glamour, Travel+Leisure, New York Magazine and more. She’s into concerts, travel and her exceptionally adorable daughter and husband.