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Divorce Etiquette 101: What to Say

Divorce Etiquette 101: What to Say

Is Telling Family & Friends Awkward? Here's Help


    After months of emotional turmoil, your divorce decree has been signed, sealed and delivered. Now what? How do you tell people that you're no longer married? To help, Divorce360 experts have answered some frequently asked questions about divorce etiquette. Here are their thoughts on how to handle sharing the details of your new single status.

Divorce360: How do you tell family about your divorce?
With your own children, it's important to sit down together, preferably not on a school day, and say "We are getting a divorce." This will probably not be too much of a surprise, since you probably haven't been getting along. Your kids are going to want to know what will happen, what will affect their lives, so try to have as much worked out as possible before you have this family meeting. For your extended family, parents, siblings, etc. this will be less of a problem if you don't demonize your ex. You definitely need a confidante, which could be one of your siblings, but try not to tell the whole, sordid story to too many people. It will come back to haunt you later. -- Tina Tessina, Ph.D., psychotherapist and author of "The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again."

Honestly...and express how you would like them to treat the kids now that you have separated. For example, ask them not to badmouth their other parent in front of the kids, even if the absolute worst has happen. It will backfire at some point. Everyone should keep the negative editorials to themselves in front of the kids. If you are really angry at your ex, remember anything you say to relatives will be remembered and this is the father or mother of your children -- someone whom your relative may choose to continue to talk to because of a long association or their relation to the children (aunt, uncle) Mom, Dad or sister are always good ears to vent because they love you and probably have your back, but if you really want to get down and dirty, I always suggest a therapist who is bound by confidentiality. -- Jann Blackstone-Ford, PsyD, a divorce and stepfamily mediator and co-founder of bonusfamilies.com.

While it is not your responsibility to take care of everyone else at the expense of yourself, it is important to remember that friends and loved ones who have supported the union have their own attachment to you as a couple as well as individual loyalty issues. This is why it is essential to let your friends know that you understand this news might be difficult for them and that you aren't interested in bashing your ex or demanding they choose between you and your ex. Instead of going on and on about your ex's shortcomings, sharing their secrets or detailing every last attack , be the bigger person and respect that your friends have their own feelings and relationship with your ex. -- Brenda Della Casa, author of the relationship book, "Cinderella was a Liar."

Divorce360: How do you tell friends? 
Your closest friends will probably know already. The ones that are hardest to tell are the ones around whom you've been "keeping up appearances" like church members, neighbors, social clubs or other parents. You don't need to tell everyone. Wait until a moment arises that makes telling necessary, such as an invitation to something, and say "Things have changed. My spouse and I are getting a divorce, so I'll be coming alone." Brace yourself for intrusive questions from some people. Just say "I'm not ready to talk about that now." -- Tina Tessina

________ and I have decided to split.  And, then decide your new living situation.  "He will be moving out and I will stay put because we don't want to uproot the kids." -- Jann Blackstone-Ford

Divorce360: How do you tell co-workers? 
Do they need to know? I'm not a big believer in sharing a lot of your personal life at work. But, if you have developed a habit of talking about your marriage, you'll probably have to tell this.  Your superiors at work need to know if it affects things like your insurance. Otherwise, it's best to keep it to yourself. -- Tina Tessina

It depends on how close they are.  If they are not close, it may not be something you want to discuss with a co-worker.  Your boss should know,however, just encase you have an emergency like you have to pick up the kids from school unexpectedly or you are having an emotional day and need a few extra minutes in the break room.  Ask for his or her confidence, however.To much personal information at work can work against you. -- Jann Blackstone-Ford

Sharing too much personal information of any kind with people at the office can be detrimental to your career if the information gets into the wrong hands or is seen by a boss as a sign you are unable to perform your duties to the fullest extent.  Your job is not a place for you to talk to your friends, attorney or argue with your ex nor is it a place you should be sharing personal details about your life over coffee in the company kitchen.  Tell your boss and close friends you and your husband have decided to end your marriage but don't go into details.  You might be seeking support but it could backfire. -- Brenda Della Casa

Divorce360: Should you send "divorce announcements" saying you are no longer married?
I think divorce announcements just for the sake of telling people are a bit tacky. -- Tina Tessina

I've written an article about this. Here's the link: http://www.bonusfamilies.com/articles/index.php?id=249 -- Jann Blackstone-Ford

Sending divorce announcements might be seen as being in poor taste by those who view marriage and divorce in a certain way. These might be particularly offensive to older relatives and friends and those closest to the union.  It is important to remember that divorces can be very shocking and difficult for those who have loved and supported the couple. Also, the spouse who sends the announcement might be judged for not taking the divorce seriously. -- Brenda Della Casa

Divorce360: How do you update your personal information without being rude?
This is where you can send an announcement. Think of this as the death of your marriage, and handle it as you would notifying people of a death in the family. We usually don't send out wholesale notices. I think a "things have changed" notice, with separate addresses for you and your spouse, is fine. Just before the holidays you can put just your own name and address on the cards you send, and sign them as yourself, or with your children, leaving your spouse's name off. For close friends and family, you can add a note on your holiday letter that says "Regretfully (spouse's name) and I have decided to go our separate ways," and give the changed addresses and phone numbers. -- Tina Tessina

When people move or change their name, it is not uncommon to send an email to those on their contact list. Sending a friendly e-mail with your new information and new name will suffice. Those who want to take the conversation further may do so at their own discretion and everyone else will get the message. -- Brenda Della Casa

Divorce360: We mark marriages, births. We do not mark divorces. Why?
Because it's a death of your marriage, not a joyous occasion. Even if you feel relieved, propriety requires that you mark it as a sad occasion. -- Tina Tessina

Because rarely are divorces thought of as positive. Anniversaries and birthdays usually mark something you want to remember. Many do not want to remember a bad marriage -- or sometimes what they did to contribute to that bad marriage (or what was done to them) However, if you view your divorce as a time of liberation, a time when you once again found yourself, lifted yourself up by the boot straps and started a new life, then the date your divorce was final would be a date to celebrate. In that way you are looking to it as a new beginning, not an ending. -- Jann Blackstone-Ford

Divorce is seen as a deeply painful and personal situation shared mostly with those who can offer support and encouragement at what is often a traumatic time. The breakup of friends and family can also cause those who supported the marriage to feel a wide range of emotions and even project their own fears about the stability of their own marriage onto the divorcing couple. Divorce brings up a lot of negative emotions in people and many feel it is a deeply personal matter that should not be marked in the way a marriage or birth should be.--  Brenda Della Casa

Divorce360: Should we have divorce rituals? If so, what should they be?
Small, private divorce rituals can be healing, you and your now-ex spouse might want to have one. Or, you can get together out with close friends or siblings for a commemoration. Again, think of it as the death of something. Use a separate occasion to mark the beginning of your new life single. -- Tina Tessina

There are some divorce rituals that are growing in popularity. One is the divorce party, often held after finalization, when a person gathers with friends and has a celebration of dating freedom. Other people do have divorce ceremonies with their ex - often held at the conclusion of mediation to obtain closure. Some people burn a copy of the marriage certificate together. Others do a reverse unity candle ceremony (using one big candle to light two smaller ones then blowing out the big one together). Other people do things that are less formal, but still have meaning, such as wishing each other well and shaking hands. Some people attempt to thank the other person for the good times. -- Brette Sember, retired attorney and author of "The Divorce Organizer."

Divorce rituals, like all rituals, should depend on the specific needs, wants, feelings and comfort level of each individual. -- Brenda Della Casa

Divorce360: Should friends and family send divorce cards?
Condolences, maybe, but personal calls or notes are more appropriate than cards. -- Tina Tessina

I think it depends on the situation. If you think the person you know who has gotten divorced would appreciate a card, then send one. However, I think you need to understand the emotional tenor of the situation - is the person upset, relieved, uncertain, etc.? -- Brette Sember

You mean, "So sorry about your divorce?" It all depends on how much you want to paint your pal as a victim. I think it would be more productive for them, you, and your relationship  to take them to a funny movie or go outdancing to help them get their mind off the bad stuff. -- Jann Blackstone-Ford

There are some who would find it to be in poor taste for friends and family to send out cards announcing the break-up of your marriage. Many people feel sharing this type of information should be done in a less dramatic fashion. That said, you have a right to do what you feel is best to deal with your own personal situation. -- Brenda Della Casa

Divorce360: Why aren't divorce cards and announcements popular? Will they be?
A divorce is a solemn occasion, a time for reflection and re-thinking about what we need to change. It's very hard on kids (as is the parental fighting that often precedes a divorce.) We need to help each other through it, but I hope we never begin to celebrate it. -- Tina Tessina

I hope not. To congratulate someone on their divorce seems a little perverse to me...and sarcastic. -- Jann Blackstone-Ford

Again, while you might find it a convenient way of sharing the news, there are some people who might find it to be impersonal, at best. It is not to say that getting divorced is shameful in any way but while you have your own thoughts and feelings about divorce, your friends and loved ones have their own and receiving such an announcement might leave them feeling embarrassed, deeply uncomfortable or even hurt.  Worse, you offer yourself on a platter to be judged, gossiped about and pitied for as long as your audience feels it appropriate. -- Brenda Della Casa

Divorce360: What about maiden name changes? Should you announce these?
Yes, this can be announced as above, as you would an address change. If your last name will be different from your children's, include their full first and last names, as well as yours, in the announcement. -- Tina Tessina

You do want to let your employer and family and friends know that you've changed your name back. You also need to create a list of all business/financial contacts such as credit cards, banks, utilities, DMV, etc. that you want to notify.  -- Brette Sember

That you may have to do...especially if you are in business and your business contacts only know you by your married name--same principle as if you were marrying and you told a business associate that your last name is changing. -- Jann Blackstone-Ford

Divorce360: How do you do all this and keep in mind your children if you have any? 
I suggest you enlist your real friends to squelch rumors and help you protect our children from gossip. Jann Blackstone-Ford

If your children are old enough, you might include them in a dialogue. How are they feeling? Are they OK? What kind of assurance do they need from you? -- Brenda Della Casa

Divorce360: Any other tips, thoughts?
Please keep in mind that this is a sad occasion for your children and for anyone who cared for your ex. -- Tina Tessina

Divorce360: What about etiquette for divorce parties?
Sorry, I think these are funerals, not parties. -- Tina Tessina

Very tacky...I would prefer to call it a Single Celebration. It's all in how you look at it. A beginning for you...or an escape -- Jann Blackstone-Ford

Send simple invitations that show this is a party to celebrate your new life and not to bash marriage or your ex, which might be offensive to your guests. Never ask for gifts and carry yourself with grace and dignity throughout the evening. That means to do your best to avoid sloppily dancing on the bar while singing "I Hate Everything About You" at the top of your lungs. -- Brenda Della Casa

Divorce360: What about etiquette for divorce parties in which you're invited  and asked to bring a gift, like an engagement party?
I can't even begin to answer this. It's way too inappropriate. -- Tina Tessina

OK...I've been doing this for a long time, and I have never heard of that one. Perhaps a housewarming party when someone breaks up and moves, but a "I left the guy and left all my stuff and now I need a present" party seems really tacky to me. -- Jann Blackstone-Ford

A nice card of support with a small gift such as a gift certificate for a massage or an offer to take them out for a cocktail or dinner would be nice. Again, it is rude to ask for gifts at any event. --- Brenda Della Casa

Divorce360: What about etiquette in workplace situations, let's say if you  find out someone is getting divorced, should you say anything?
 "I'm so sorry to hear about your divorce. I hope you and your children are OK." -- Tina Tessina

If you know them well, offering your sympathies is not bad ex-etiquette. "I'm very sorry about your divorce. How are you holding up?" might be a good sentiment. Or, even, "You seem to be handling your divorce well (if they are)." -- Jann Blackstone-Ford

A simple, "How are you? Please let me know if there is anything I can do," would be appreciated. It is essential not to press for details or to engage in ex-bashing with your co-worker but lending an ear and a shoulder, or offering to get them a cup of coffee would go a long way. -- Brenda Della Casa

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