Divorce expo a counterpoint to wedding industry

By Leanne Italie

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, April 4 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

In this March 31, 2012 photo, makeup artist Gail Sagel provides beauty tips at the Start Over Smart Divorce Expo in New York. A smattering of vendors set up booths offering everything from a divorce planning binder to advice on long-term insurance, with seminars on such topics as "Sensuality Secrets" and "My Formerly Hot Life."

Charles Sykes, Associated Press

NEW YORK — Liz Slayback can trace her decision to pursue a divorce to a precise, painful moment.

"I knew my marriage was over and the divorce proceedings were about to begin when I came home and I found my husband in bed with my two best friends," said the 33-year-old dental hygienist from Staten Island.

How do we know that? Because Slayback declared it so in a video recording booth set up by Huffington Post during a rare, two-day event — an "expo" for people just starting divorce proceedings, in the middle or looking to rise from the ashes in the aftermath.

Slayback, positively bubbly after a fancy but free haircut, was among about 300 people to attend "Start Over Smart" last weekend, most of whom were women. A smattering of vendors set up booths offering everything from a divorce planning binder to advice on long-term insurance, with seminars on such topics as "Sensuality Secrets" and "My Formerly Hot Life."

Unlike mega-expos put on by the multimillion-dollar wedding industry, this was a not-so-jubilant affair — save an evening mixer — at an elegant, intimate venue.

The divorce counterpoint to wedding marketplaces was the idea of a mother-daughter team from Westport, Conn. The younger, Nicole Baras Feuer, is a divorce mediator and divorced mother. Her mom, Francine Baras, is a family therapist. They got the idea from a similar divorce expo in Paris, which they attended in late 2010.

"Americans need a place to come and meet professionals face-to-face and not get everything from a book or a website, to bring everything live and let people have all the accurate information under one roof instead of piecemealing it," Baras Feuer said.

Her mother added: "There is no coming together of people going through divorce as there are at a wedding expo, where you get your dress, you get your veil, you get an event planner, you pick out your invitations. Weddings are a known quantity. Getting divorced is an unknown quantity."

So where does divorce stand, anyway?

Deciphering divorce statistics to arrive at an overall rate feels a lot like breaking the Da Vinci Code when all factors are considered, but this much we can say: Marriages are at an all-time low, due in part to younger people delaying their nuptials, and divorce is high among baby boomers when compared to other age groups.

According to a Census Bureau analysis based on a 2009 sample of 3 million households, 19.1 weddings were performed per 1,000 men and 17.6 per 1,000 women across the U.S. that year, while divorces became final for 9.2 of every 1,000 men and 9.7 of every 1,000 women. That means that roughly, for every two people getting married, one gets divorced.

Southern and Western states ranked among the highest for wedding bells, but many in those regions also have higher rates of divorce than the Northeast, among other areas.

Roughly 1.1 million children, or 1.5 percent of all children, lived in 2009 in the home of a parent who divorced in the previous year.

Yet it might as well be 1950 all over again when it comes to the isolation and stigma of divorce.

"The culture hasn't allowed divorce to be something that we know is real and does happen," Baras said. "We sort of say it happens, but in your own house and not the culture itself."

The divorce of Hiromi Schaub, 32, was final on March 27, but the Queens accountant hadn't told her co-workers or any friends back home in Japan that she's no longer with her husband, an American lawyer she said racked up thousands of dollars in debt in her name.

"I don't have family here in America. I'm all alone. It is very hard," she said. "I wanted to come here and see other people, what they are doing and how they are getting through. I never thought I would get a divorce. I thought I was happy."

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