Divorce parties: Creating closure, or a tacky spectacle?

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Divorce parties, complete with some of the classic features of weddings – cakes, feasts, toasts – are gaining traction across the country.

An Associated Press feature story on the parties is getting wide play. Locally, it was carried by the Pioneer Press. It also showed up online at MSN Money and in the pages of newspapers ranging from the Dallas Morning News to the Hamilton, Ont. Spectator.

Google "divorce parties" and you'll find a plethora of ideas and photos of the food, the invitations, and, of course, the events themselves. The AP story talked to bakers, event planners and the divorcing spouses about the growing prevalence of the parties.

"I've taken to naming them freedom fests, as you aren't celebrating the end of the marriage but the freedom you have chosen in your life," said Richard O'Malley, a New York-area event planner who organized one divorce blowout that cost a woman about $25,000.

As the divorce rate has climbed, shame associated with a marriage's end has declined. While divorce claims about half of all marriages, the rate varies from state to state. According to statistics compiled by StateMaster.com, in 2012, Minnesota was ranked at number 41 of the 50 states in its frequency of divorce per capita.

A cake served at a divorce party is likely to taste sweet, but they often come with a certain bitterness. Dessert chef Lisa Stevens in Tampa, Florida, makes one divorce cake a month now, a steady climb over the last year. The story said that cake styles that shows the wife pushing the husband off the top tier or that features an edible divorce decree have become popular.
Steve Wolf from Austin, Texas marked his amicable split with a party co-hosted by his ex that included a lemon cake she baked herself. The father of three, Wolf said the event offered closure, especially important because kids were involved.

"We cut the cake together like we did the wedding cake 10 years before. When life gives you lemons, make lemon cake," he joked.

The AP story framed the parties and celebrations in an entirely positive light. But a story broadcast by the CBS station in Miami offered a dissenting opinion. "Some say that celebrating what most consider a failure sends the wrong message," the story said.

“To celebrate something that did not result in a good union, that goes against the vows that somebody took,” psychiatrist Harris Straightner said, adding that such events can backfire if the couple has children. "So you brought me into this world now you’re celebrating that you’re splitting up,” he added.

An article in the U.K.'s Daily Mail was more blunt. Headlined, "Why having a divorce party is like celebrating a miscarriage," the story said, "...for most normal people this is a time of tremendous loss, bereavement and sadness." It went on to call parties "shallow and trivial."

The Huffington Post posed the question for readers to weigh in on whether divorce parties are helpful...or plain old tacky? In an entirely non-scientific poll on the site, readers were asked if they would have a divorce party; 43.16 percent said no, but 56.84 answered in the affirmative.

Earlier in the week, the Associated Press reported divorce parties were condemned by a senior Iranian cleric. Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani called the parties a ‘‘satanic’’ Western import and a ‘‘poison’’ for Islamic society.

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