Closing Ceremony for Divorce?

April 7, 2015

            We are taught in collaborative divorce to offer clients a closing ceremony. Most of us are uncomfortable with that.



  • “Clients don’t want it.”
  • “Too touchy-feely. Not everyone wants some kind of kumbaya.”
  • “Uncomfortable, personal and painful.”
  • “These particular clients aren’t ready for it yet, maybe in 5 years.”
  • “They’ll never do it.
  • “We can’t expect transformation, although it would be nice and might happen in a few cases.”

But this isn’t about kumbaya, transformation or enlightenment. It’s symbolic of healthy transition, which is the core of every divorce. And, how do we mark life transitions? Sometimes by ritual.


The closing ritual in the usual case might be a few words after the final hearing in court or with attorneys at the signing. That’s the doorway to the future for those clients.


As an alternative, a closing ceremony might be a logical and supportive ending like it began at a wedding ceremony.


“Elements are built into the final events of the representation that help clients achieve a kind of homeostasis or resting place with respect to the life passage that divorce represents for them." Pauline Tesler



That’s neither kumbaya nor transformation.  It's transition from one life to the next.


What should be included in a closing ceremony? Tesler says:

  • “Help clients reflect back upon the successes and acts of grace that occurred during the process and acknowledge the acts of generosity and ethical, civilized behaviors
  • Mirror for clients their proven competency at resolving disputes and disagreements with their partner or spouse
  • Normalize to clients the expectation that future disagreements or conflicts are predictable and can also be handled with grace, civility and integrity
  • Build into the agreements and into the client’s expectations adequate tools and procedures for resolving future disagreements
  • Provide for clients who wish it a ceremonial marker for the end of their legal relationship. This might include an opportunity for apologies and forgiveness or something as simple as a champagne toast or a hug.  This can all happen in the context of final document review and signing. 

In A Healing Divorce, Phil and Barbara Penningroth shared their personal experience and that of others who prepared for and used a more formal ritual, similar to a wedding, with reflection of the past, the transition and commitment to the future relationship. This is a counter to “The Myth of the Bad Divorce”.


The authors say: “Because of the many negative attitudes about divorce prevalent in our society, a healing divorce may seem like an oxymoron. …Our experience and that of others leads us to believe that you can end your relationship with truth, love, care and forgiveness.” “Certainly, you may feel grief, fear, anger and jealousy – all the familiar emotions that make divorce so painful and difficult. But if you’re willing, ritual can help end your relationship with integrity and honor in a ceremony that often proves as meaningful as the wedding that began the marriage.”

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