Recently, NYC hosted its first divorce expo, Start Over Smart NY: A Modern Divorce Expo.
The Expo became a media darling, with many major news outlets covering the event, (HuffPo was a media sponsor). I even spotted Tokyo TV and Russian News Network. The broad based media interest caused me to wonder why was having an Expo devoted to divorced and divorcing folks so interesting to the media?
For the purposes of full disclosure, I (a.k.a The MediateTrix) was on the advisory board of the event, a speaker at the event and my professional practice, Stalder Raich Mediation, had a booth at the Expo. I got involved because I believe in the importance of helping people gather information and wisdom as they make the transition from being married to divorced.
There are different lenses through which one can think about family, conflict and the law. For example, I believe that divorce is a family matter with a legal element, not a lawsuit that happens to be about a family. Others view divorce differently.
There is a deficit of quality information about different methods of divorcing.
The media often teaches us to be positional, political discourse feeds into that model, celebrity divorces teach us that high conflict is a paradigm to which we should aspire. And social media encourages exceedingly brief remarks about complex ideas. Tarty replies, sound bites and ‘quotables’ are media savvy, but complex problems rarely get solved by idioms.
The organizers of Start Over Smart seemed to recognize the complexity and multi- faceted nature of separation and divorce and that is why I chose to support and participate in the event.
The founders of the event, a mother daughter team, Francine Baras and Nicole Feuer, feel strongly that people going through the challenges of divorce need a community, need professional advice, and need to know that life can be fun and flirty again when all of the business of divorcing is complete. To that end, the Expo had a two fold message; conduct the business of your divorce in a thoughtful, smart manner and remember there is the potential for a full, fun and vital life on the ‘other side’.
The media enjoyed reporting on this unique concept, but the question remains, why was there so much interest?
There are events to attract people going through other life transitions like marriage, or expos for people contemplating purchasing a new business or looking to decorate their homes or wanting to engage in hobbies etc…yet, there have been few to none that address one of the most thorough and common lifestyle changes in America, divorce.
Start Over Smart was divorce’s debutante ball; it’s coming out party. Divorce is something that many, many people have to go through but there are not many forums to discuss it openly with others going through the same thing.
Hopefully events like Start Over Smart can help teach the public that there are different ways to get divorced (mediation, collaborative divorce, litigation) and, if possible, one should be thoughtful about how one goes about divorcing to ensure the outcome is in harmony with one’s goals and intentions for the process.
Also, one would hope that attending an event that supports intelligent divorce decision- making does not induce feelings fraught with shame or insecurity, but rather fills attendees with feelings of self-empowerment and self-determination.
Start Over Smart and the press coverage it received should serve as a catalyst to alter the way we think about and talk about divorce in America. And we really need that shift as a nation.
Many other countries have refocused divorcing couples toward non-adversarial divorce solutions. England requires mediation prior to engagement in matrimonial litigation and in Canada divorce mediation is a common first step, not an ‘alternative’ one.
Why then, is America so set on creating an adversarial environment for resolving divorce? Isn’t it time for divorce to be viewed as the restructuring of a family (physically, emotionally and financially) rather than the shameful failure of a family to succeed?
Justice Brandeis famously wrote about sunlight being the best disinfectant. The message I took away from Start Over Smart is that people going through separation and divorce deserve to be ushered out of the closet and into the light.
I also came away from the event thinking that if feelings of shame and failure that divorce tends to evoke can be replaced with feelings of pride and accomplishment about how one handled one of the biggest, most drastic life changes in their adult life, then Start Over Smart was the beginning of a really important shift in divorce’s story in America.