The business of divorce: all finance and no feeling?

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Divorce. A word that for many separated couples bookmarks years of latent unhappiness. Despite the fact that many of us are deciding to tie the knot later in life and incidentally take greater care when choosing our life partner, almost half of all marriages in the UK end in divorce.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), around half of these divorces are expected to occur within the first ten years of marriage. In recent years, marital breakdown has incentivised extortionate divorce settlements and avarice amongst affluent spouses, fuelling publicity in the celebrity world. But the commercialisation of the industry has also encouraged businesses to respond to the unmistakably clinical nature of the divorce process and address the emotional impact.

Number of marriages and divorces in England and Wales 

Number_of_marriages_and_divorces_in_England_and_Wales (1)Source: ONS

According to research carried out for Slater and Gordon, almost half of divorced Brits say they ‘still face daily judgement from people because their marriage has failed.’ Of the 1000 divorced people that were surveyed, 50 percent felt unable to discuss the prospect of divorce with family or friends, with women being twice as likely to delay getting a divorce due to the perceived social stigma. The report also found that on average, it takes a divorced person three years and eight months to feel emotionally stable after a divorce.

Emma Heptonstall is a divorce coach and author of ‘How To Be a Lady Who Leaves’ – a guide for people who are going through a divorce or considering a divorce. The majority of her clients are women in their late forties and early fifties, many of whom, she says, hearken to their mother’s era when women would simply stay married for the sake of the children: “There isn’t a stigma that there once was but there is still a stigma, particularly about women who leave,” claims Emma. “The stigma of leaving, they carry that culturally, sometimes unconsciously even if no one’s actually said to them you shouldn’t leave, they just instinctively know that some people will think badly of them.”

Like many experts in the field, Emma believes amending the legal conditions currently in place could alleviate the detrimental impact of divorce. At present, when applying for a divorce in the UK the spouse must prove their marriage is beyond saving by claiming one of five facts: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, two year’s separation with consent or five year’s separation without consent. Many are now calling for the introduction of “no fault” divorce whereby a couple can separate without accusing their spouse of wrongdoing. Emma says the government needs to update the legal framework for divorce so couples can adopt a collaborative approach and thus make the process less acrimonious: “Society has moved on, why shouldn’t a couple be able to say well actually, we’ve grown apart we have nothing left in common, we want to separate.

“The kindest way we can do it to one another, and our kids, is just to call it a day and move forward.

“Until we get that the marriage act is still stuck in the dark ages.”

While the marriage act may still be stuck in the dark ages, the idea of celebrating divorce has been increasingly in the limelight. Divorce parties have been growing in popularity over the past few years and businesses have been quick to cash in on the trend, selling a glut of divorce paraphernalia including “Don’t cry for him, your mascara is too expensive” cards or divorce-themed celebration cakes. But while many of us may tut and say this is merely undermining the institution of marriage, divorce party planner Christine Gallagher believes a party can help counterbalance the loneliness people face when going through a breakup. After throwing her first breakup party in 2003 she set about writing The Divorce Party Handbook and now runs a successful party planning business in Los Angeles. “A Divorce Party is an opportunity to vent, to cry, laugh, yell, whatever you need to do, in the company of loving friends and family,” says Christine. The cost of her parties range from $5000 to $25,000 and tend to cater for women over thirty and gay men.

Carole Nyman is a couples counsellor in London and said marking a divorce through a celebration can be a positive step in helping couples to move on with their lives: “It’s a sort of way of affirming we’re on a new track now and we have to be positive about our life, we’re happy that we’re free and we’re moving on.

“I don’t think [divorce]is diminished by the fact that other people go through it or that there are divorce parties, it’s all putting a positive spin on it and making something that’s really tumultuous into something that they can cope with.”

Divorce in numbersThe commercialisation of divorce may have negative connotations but the growth of businesses flourishing from marital breakdown could help make the impersonal approach to legal proceedings more bearable. One entrepreneur who was keen to tap into the emotional side of getting divorced is Kate Daly. After experiencing a difficult and costly divorce, Kate set up amicable, an end-to-end divorce service to simplify the legal process and put greater focus on the welfare of the family and children. Since launching in January this year over 1000 people have subscribed to the app.

Head of marketing Hannah Hodgkinson says the app will enable couples to take a less labour intensive and expensive approach to divorce: “We think the way that divorce is done at the moment does create stigma, does create acrimony and can be very traumatic.

“We wanted to create a service, which alleviated that for people as much as possible within the legal structures that we have in this country.”

The application helps couples make goals for the future, download useful information to their phones and essentially guide them through the process, without the need of lawyers to represent each party. Divorce coaches are also on hand to help mediate the situation and finalise administration. Amicable is unique, says Hannah, because it is an alternative to the polarising nature of representing one party over another: “It can take a minimum of four months if you agree to get through the whole divorce process but within that time if there are finances, children, all that mix of emotion to sort out it does change.

“At the moment there’s not a system in place for people a part from ours that deals with both parts, the legal and the emotional.”

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