LONDON — Breaking up is hard to do. But lawyers, counselors, astrologists and lifestyle coaches at Britain's first divorce fair this weekend will aim to make the process easier.
The fair — cheerily named the "Starting Over Show" — takes place Sunday at a cozy hotel in the seaside resort town of Brighton. There will be live music, book signings and play areas for kids.
Organizer Suzy Miller said the event would aim to focus on the positive, starting with a warming cup of tea and a chunk of homemade cake.
"There are wedding fairs everywhere telling you how to tie the knot, but when people go through a divorce they need more help, more support," Miller said.
Though Britain has one of the highest divorce rates in Europe, Miller said the Brighton event would be unlike the continent's first divorce fair in Austria two years ago, which featured private investigators and companies offering DNA tests for proof of paternity.
Instead, psychics would offer to heal people's minds and bodies, color therapists can advise on what colors to wear to feel confident, and one company would suggest boosting finances by selling a healthy version of chocolate, she said.
"Sometimes people just need someone to talk to," said exhibitor Martina Mercer-Hall, who uses astrology and alternative therapies to advise on designing one's homes after divorce. "We listen to people at a lonely time of their lives, and offer advice on getting through it."
High divorce rate
Many of the 30 or so exhibitors, who have paid up to 1,600 pounds ($2,245) for a stall, plan to focus on having fun after the divorce is over.
One exhibitor called the "Shoe Queen" can organize the footwear equivalent of Tupperware parties, selling stilettos instead of rubber margarine tubs. Another plans art appreciation vacations. A dating agency promises to help those still interested in giving love a chance.
On a more pragmatic note, the fair offers mediators to help couples navigate divorce without lawyers, and debt counselors to help them avoid bankruptcy.
Britain has one of Europe's highest divorce rates, with 2.6 people of every thousand divorcing compared with a European average of 1.8, according to EU statistics in 2001. A 2002 report from the Center for Policy Studies think-tank suggests more people split up in Britain because there are few tax or welfare advantages to being married. It also suggests younger Britons do not view marriage as a serious commitment.
Lawyers have warned divorce rates could climb in Britain as the country's economic recession puts pressure on marriages. Already, lawyers say business is booming, with some couples squabbling over fast-depreciating assets.
Earlier this week, financier Brian Myerson asked a British court to reassess his March 2008 divorce settlement in which he agreed to pay his ex-wife 40 percent of his 25.8 million pound ($36 million) fortune. He now says the deal was unfair as the value of his assets has plummeted.
"We are seeing husbands making inquiries on divorce. They want to sort their finances now as the economic downturn is pushing down the value of their assets," said Alan Larkin, a partner of law firm Mayo Wynne Baxter. "Others want to hold on — women who don't want to divorce until bonuses kick in again and can be included in their settlement."
A good life
Nevertheless, Larkin said he wondered whether people going through a painful separation would want to attend such a public and festive event.
Some family support groups also worried a divorce show could be a distraction to people at a fragile point in their lives.
"We are not sure a divorce fair will be able to the emotional needs those who are going through a separation will be experiencing," said Emma Brennan at the Family and Parenting Institute, a social research institute.
But organizers, who have sold 300 advance tickets at about five pounds ($7) each, said the show was meant to inspire people.
"The message is that you can have a good life: Your life doesn't revolve around the fact that you are divorced," Miller said.
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