First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes - the big divorce party?
Given the ongoing trend to commemorate even the most minor milestones with ever-more-elaborate events (the engagement video, the $26,000 wedding, the themed baby shower, the gender reveal party) it was only a matter of time until "divorce parties" started making their way onto the social calendar.
Event planners advertise the service in almost every major city, and websites like divorcepartyideas.com advise on everything from games to play with the divorcé to appropriate gifts (things that may have been lost in the split, adult toys). Perhaps reflecting the attitude that weddings are all about the bride, most divorce party advice is geared toward women, and event organizers say that most of their requests for divorce parties come from women.
Jana Peters, the community manager of Display Group, a Detroit-based event-production company, has noticed a recent surge of interest in divorce do's." These parties don't yet have the competitive nature of weddings," Peters said, and due to the painful nature of divorce, she didn't foresee that changing anytime soon. Still, the rapid increase in demand led her to speculate that "they may become as common as throwing an engagement party."
Richard O'Malley, a special event producer working in New York and New Jersey, agrees that the events aren't yet as common, or costly, as weddings, but he sees a trend toward increasingly elaborate - and expensive - divorce parties. "I had one client who opted to throw herself a 'reverse wedding' to celebrate her divorce," O'Malley says. "It was very involved; she had a ceremony in which she was 'given back' to her father; a reception with dinner, dancing and a 'good riddance' speech from her maid of honor; and she even gave all her guests framed pictures of the gifts they'd given at the original wedding, so they could 'take it back,' too.
"All in all, she probably spent around $25,000 on the event, and that doesn't include the cost of the new Harley she sped off on after the reception with a Just Divorced! sign tacked on the back."
O'Malley says most divorce parties range in cost from $2,000 to $10,000 but added that he has been hearing from more clients interested in throwing their own highly choreographed - and significantly more expensive - Freedom Fests.
Even a cheap divorce party might seem extreme to some, given the how costly a divorce can be. Family law attorney Bari Zell Weinberger, owner and managing partner of the New Jersey-based Weinberger Law Group, says even amicable, uncontested divorces can cost both members several thousand dollars. "One thing I always tell my clients is that divorce will cost as much as the least reasonable person in the room is willing to spend," she adds. A heavily litigated, high-conflict divorce can costs tens of thousands of dollars.
Considering that price tag and the time involved, Weinberger says, "These people deserve a party!"
"For many people, a divorce party can serve as a marker of an important transition from a bad relationship to a place of opportunity," says Jonathan Alpert, a Manhattan psychotherapist and author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days. He added that many of his clients who have thrown divorce parties are looking for a symbolic way to move on. "Generally, the emotional impact is positive: People are surrounded by supportive friends; enjoying good food, drinks, and fun; and experiencing a sort of catharsis after a very difficult period in their lives."
Alpert has heard of people doing everything from setting off on their own Eat, Pray, Love adventures to renting out venue halls or rooms at their favorite restaurants. Overall, he deems the trend "innocent enough."
Jen Kelman, a relationship expert for Pearl.com and a certified life coach based in of Parkland, Fla., disagrees. "Often, divorce parties are being driven by a sense of newfound freedom, as well as a desire to 'show' the former spouse, neither of which are positive ways to deal with, and move on from, divorce, in my opinion," Kelman says. "For many people, I think divorce parties are an attempt to prove to everyone that they're okay, even if they're not." That sense of freedom, in other words, may be premature - and not entirely to be trusted.
Both Alpert and Kelman agree that divorce parties are not a good idea when children there are involved. "A divorce might be right for the couple, but it's a major disruption in a child's life," says Alpert. "Don't turn a challenging and possibly very sad situation for your child into your celebration."
Of course there are less expensive - and attention-seeking - ways to "celebrate" a divorce. Alpert often tells clients to get rid of artifacts from the marriage - pictures, love letters, mementos.
After a painful and unexpected divorce, Tomi Tuel - a budget analyst for the state of California, and author of 101 Things I Learned After My Divorce - threw herself a themed art night.
That might be an overstatement; Tuel says that when the divorce became final (something she described as, after months of legal battles, anticlimactic), she went home and scrawled dozens of less-than-complimentary words about her ex all over her bathroom walls. Then, after a few tears and an orange-juice toast to herself, she "got out the paint and the roller, and covered up all the negative emotions, literally and figuratively."
Considering how painful even the most amicable divorces can be - the Holmes-Rahe social adjustment rating scale ranks divorce as the second-most-stressful life event someone can endure, topped only by the death of a spouse - parties like Tuel's might continue to be the preferred way to celebrate a divorce.
That, or the old standby: drinking yourself into a stupor.