Divorce expo a counterpoint to wedding industry

Apr 4, 2012, 5:38 PM

Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) – 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.”

Schaub was among about 20 in the audience to listen to Stephanie Dolgoff share her own divorce experience and describe a book she wrote, “My Formerly Hot Life,” about growing older and going through a divorce while in the public eye.

Dolgoff urged them not to bristle when the judgments begin.

“Even in this day and age. … you get judged. You get judged left and right. I found that tremendously, tremendously difficult, especially because I knew what I was doing was the right thing,” she said. “You have to walk through fire, basically, in most cases, to get to a better place.”

Only 10 or so people showed up for sensuality expert Patty Contenta’s session showing women _ and some men _ how to “replenish” by readjusting their body language. “Your energy and your aura need to open up,” she offered.

For Schaub, who has no kids, the advice is spot on, and she wasn’t the only one looking for help in the mojo department. “I was with this guy for eight years so I don’t know how to date, or how to find guys,” she said. “I don’t know how to start.”

Though in a different life stage, Diana Polonskaya, 48, felt the same. The information technology specialist from Brooklyn has two grown sons and is going through an amicable divorce with her second husband. “But still I need to start my life over.”

She was especially inspired by Contenta and tips from the personal shopping service of Macy’s on how to mix and match 10 wardrobe essentials.

“When you’re married you stop thinking about this stuff and you get used to things,” Polonskaya said. “There’s no more passion, but now I need to go back to becoming more passionate with life and clothes and everything.”

The expo, which follows similar gatherings in Detroit and Toronto, covered all the bases _ from purveyors of wrinkle reduction, liposuction and breast augmentation to life coaches, a matchmaker and the writer of a book on how to investigate your date.

“We’re taking a very holistic approach,” said Baras Feuer, who got married at 24 and divorced 17 years later. “People need to be educated. People’s lives get destroyed by divorce because they don’t know everything they need to know.”

How do you date after 20 years? How do you meet new friends when your married ones no longer want anything to do with you? They’re the same questions people of divorce have been asking since divorce was invented, whenever that was.

“People going through this are still very isolated,” Baras said. “People don’t want to hear about it who aren’t divorced. They’re afraid it’s contagious.”

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Divorce expo a counterpoint to wedding industry