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Will divorce ceremonies make parents' split easier on kids?

April 25, 2012 at 10:50 AM ET

With this ceremony, I thee... divorce?

Ah, weddings. Most of us have, at some point, been invited by friends or family to share in the joy and celebration of a marital union.

But have you ever been asked to take part in the end of a marriage?

It could be in your future, as some experts are saying divorce ceremonies are the newest way to help children get through their parents’ break-up, and for adults to take that first positive step toward co-parenting together. 

Not to be confused with divorce partieswhich have been gaining steam for a little while now, divorce ceremonies don’t have a band, buffet or much of a celebratory feeling to them. In fact, they’re pretty solemn affairs— all about letting go of your role as romantic partners but affirming your role as a parental unit.  

Dr. Jeffrey Zimmerman, a clinical psychologist and author of The Co-Parenting Survival Guide, has folks write out a series of joint pledges that they say aloud to their kids, and then encourages them to print out and frame their divorce declarations in both of their family homes.

“Kids start to hold their parents accountable,” he explained. “They say, ‘Mom, that’s number three! You said you wouldn’t put us in the middle.’”

Teresa Dedovitch, the founder of a website  that plans and provides divorce ceremonies, is also big on including children in the service.

“When someone leaves this world, you have a memorial,” she says. “So why not provide validation for this milestone as well?” 

Similar to a typical wedding set-up, Dedovitch encourages couples to invite close friends and family members, gives parents an olive branch to hold (instead of a bouquet), and has them publicly recite their divorce vows to one another—with their children standing off to the side (sort of like a bridal party).

While this all might seem a little new age-y, divorce ceremonies have actually been part of the Jewish religion for over a millennium.

Rabbi David Zaslow is putting his own co-parenting spin on the traditional Jewish ritual for his congregation in Ashland, Oregon. He recommends that kids (if they’re old enough and their parents are still being civil to each other) stand in the room and witness the moments when their mother and father formally break their romantic ties.

“Divorce doesn’t have the stigma it used to,” he argues. “It’s time for priests, pastors, sheiks and rabbis to step into reality and help bring closure for families at this time in their lives.” 

For some, the service can be a life changer. Joann Lane found her own divorce ceremony -- in which she and her ex-husband included their two teenage sons -- so meaningful, she became a certified civil celebrant who now performs divorce ceremonies for other couples with children.

Lane says her sons were touched by their parents’ divorce ceremony. “At some point, I looked over at them, and could see the emotion on their faces,” she said.

There’s no question, divorce is hard on a child, under any circumstances. And it’s probably too soon to tell whether divorce ceremonies are really part of the solution or a way for adults to work through emotional stuff for themselves.

In the meantime, the next big question: What exactly does one wear to a divorce ceremony?

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