Page last updated at 11:43 GMT, Saturday, 14 March 2009

Opening the doors on divorce

By Anna Browning
BBC News

Rowing couple

The talk is of romance: white dresses, salmon starters, champagne and "little magic touches".

But while brides-to-be visiting the National Wedding Show in Birmingham this weekend may be dreaming of the happy-ever-after, those with a more jaded experience of married life are also being catered for.

Britain's first divorce fair - the Starting Over show - starts this weekend in Brighton.

Its aim? "To help people bounce back" from "break-up".

According to the organisers, its location is fitting - coastal towns in the south of England suffer from some of the UK's highest divorce rates.

In total, 144,220 divorces were granted in the UK between 2006 and 2007, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Most of these (68%) were granted to women.

Second divorces

So while wedding shows concentrate on "transforming" flower arrangements, "inspirational" wedding cakes and Cinderella-style carriages, the divorce fair focuses on aspects such as financial mediation, child support and break-up coaching.

Organiser Suzie Miller is expecting a minimum of 500 people through the doors. So far a only quarter of tickets have been bought by men.

We want to help people ask themselves questions they've never asked themselves before
Suzie Miller
Organiser

Many of those attending will be there because they have learned from bitter experience, says Ms Miller.

"I think many cases will be people going through a second divorce, and they don't want the experience to be as horrific as the first time," she said.

Again, ONS figures would seem to support her belief: one in five men and women divorcing in 2007 had a previous marriage ending in divorce.

The first ever divorce fair was held in Austria in 2007. It was a response to the country's growing divorce rate, which hit an all-time high of 50% in 2006 - indeed, 66% of marriages in Vienna end in divorce.

Ms Miller, herself a divorcee, denies the fair will encourage relationships to break up.

Unlike the show in Austria, private detectives will not be exhibiting in Brighton. Instead, the Starting Over fair will be concentrated on "well-being".

"We want to help people ask themselves questions they've never asked themselves before, like 'what do I want to get out of my life," said Ms Miller.

Such a situation can be a "positive catalyst for change", she says.

"But you need support. To try and do it on your own is not a good thing. That's what I discovered."

'More the better'

Cath Allen of Relate, the relationship counselling service, supports the idea. Indeed, as one of the exhibitors, Relate will be on hand offering books on divorce.

"The more information people are given about the implications of divorce for themselves and their children the better," she said.

"I don't think all of that can be achieved in a one-day show, but if people can find out what's available then that's really helpful."

Breakup Angels, which provides support and advice for those affected by a relationship breakdown, will be organising a financial workshop.

Co-founder Kirsten Gronning said the organisation was set up after it became obvious people were finding it difficult to "access the right information".

For example, she suggested, heading straight to a lawyer was not always the solution and could instead "inflame" the situation.

She said her team helped people "pinpoint" the biggest problem in a relationship and by dealing with it, sometimes the relationship could be saved.

Another exhibitor, Liz Foster, became a divorce coach three years ago after being coached through her own divorce.

I don't see it as making money out of people in distress, I see myself as a service provider
Liz Foster
Divorce coach

"It made such a huge difference to my life and my kids, and the relationship that I had with my ex-husband," she said.

As a divorce coach she deals with the "emotional side".

"We deal with rejection, acceptance, anger, resentment, pain," she said.

"I don't see it as making money out of people in distress, I see myself as a service provider.

"Coaches offer support and help to people so that they can move on in a much faster way than they ever would have been able to.

"Getting over a divorce can feel very similar to a grieving process. Certainly if you are the one that's been left, that's a tough place to be.

"If you've got young kids you've got to keep dealing with each other, and that takes a lot of work, to actually have a relationship.

"My kids still have a family. We go out with the kids every now and again. We can all still be there, because we can be sociable with each other. We have dealt with our stuff."



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