Jeanne Rathbone


DIVORCE CEREMONIES HUMANIST STYLE.          Video of me explaining Humanist Divorce Ceremony

I don’t know why we, as Humanist celebrants, are not asked or involved with divorce ceremonies. I reckon that Humanist Celebrants are the obvious , default providers of divorce ceremonies.

As rational people whose philosophy and ethics are based on human nature we recognise the need for divorce and that divorce is part of life. Divorce is a milestone in people’s lives. It is a rite-of-passage and it could be facilitated with a ceremony which brings together family and friends of a couple or one spouse as they move on to the next stage of their lives.

As we conduct non-religious weddings it seems evident that we should be there to help people when they dissolve their marital union. It also seems evident that divorce mediation should be the norm and  an alternative to traditional divorce litigation. In a divorce mediation session, a mediator facilitates the discussion between the two parties by assisting with communication and providing information and suggestions to help resolve differences. At the end of the mediation process, the separating parties have typically developed a tailored divorce agreement.

Divorce is usually, but not always, a painful process. It probably will be more difficult when children are involved. Dolly Parton’s well known song famously elucidates this.


Our little boy is four years old
And he’s quite a little man
So we spell out the words
We don’t want him to understand
Like t-o-y, or maybe s-u-r-p-r-i-s-e
But the words we’re hiding from him now
Tears the heart right out of me

Our d-i-v-o-r-c-e becomes final today
Me and little j-o-e will be going away
I love you both and this will be
Pure h-e-double-l for me
Oh, I wish that we could stop this d-i-v-o-r-c-e

Watch him smile
He thinks it’s christmas
Or his fifth birthday
And he thinks c-u-s-t-o-d-y
Spells fun, or play
I spell out all the hurtin’ words
And I turn my head when I speak
Cause I can’t spell away this hurt
That’s dripping down my cheek.

I found this piece by David Batty from the Guardian website. He is obviously referring to secular ceremonies which he erroneously described as non-denominational.

“It is an occasion usually more associated with screaming rows and financial disputes, but a group is offering ceremonies for divorcing couples to mark their separation.

The non-denominational group will be offering the separation or “letting-go” ceremonies at the UK’s first divorce fair, the Starting Over Show, in Brighton tomorrow.

Estelle Williams, one of the three members of Rhythm of Life, a group that offers alternative ceremonies, said: “The ceremony may allow you to say sorry or to say thank you for the good times before it went wrong. It may involve a symbolic action like the cutting of a cord.”

The hundreds of divorcees attending the fair at Brighton’s Old Ship hotel will be able to get advice from lawyers, financial mediators and counsellors, as well as cheering themselves up by buying chocolate moulded into erotic scenes from the Karma Sutra.”


Here is another piece from an independent celebrants website:

Divorce Ceremonies

The journey that you had begun in love and hope has sadly ended….

It is a sad fact of life that not all marriages or civil partnerships stand the test of time, and when a relationship comes to an end it is a sad and difficult time for both partners and can be especially hard when there are children involved.

The end what was once a loving relationship is a bereavement and it is something that naturally we grieve for, but unlike the death of somebody we love which is marked with the ritual of a funeral to help us with acceptance and closure, at the ending of a relationship there is often no ceremony to mark either its ending, nor the beginning of your new life as a single person.

In fact within our society we have ceremony and ritual to mark almost all of life’s transitions; new births, graduation, marriages, funerals, Bat Mitzvahs to signify the transition from childhood to adulthood, even housewarming parties to celebrate moving to a new home, but very seldom is the painful spiritual and emotional process of divorce given any attention or support through the use of ceremony.

Divorce ceremonies can either be conducted with just one partner from the marriage present, or if the separation is more amicable they you may both like to be present and to focus of the symbolism of the moment.

Divorce and separation rituals do not tend to be big public ceremonies, you may like the ceremony to be totally private, or to have a few family members and friends present to support you. The aim of a Divorce ceremony is to help you to be able to move forward, This isn’t simply just a ceremony, but a creative process which will help to validate your difficult journey, allowing you forgive old hurts, to reclaim your married years as something that mattered greatly and to make new vows to yourself to infuse your life with a fresh beginning and new direction.

Divorce ceremonies can take place immediately following a separation, or can be several years after the event, there are no set rules. This is a ceremony to help bring you acceptance, closure and healing and can take place at any time or place that you want.

Symbolism and Ritual

These are just a few ideas which you may like to include within your ceremony, however our professionally trained celebrants will work closely with you, sensitively acknowledging your feelings and your loss so that together you can create a meaningful ceremony which is personalised just for you.

If you have older children, consider melting down your wedding rings into a meaningful symbol to give them as a gift and a reminder of the love that created them.

You and your ex-spouse could each take the time to write down what you honour about your years together, and then read these things to each other.

You could speak words of forgiveness and release, for example; “I bless you and release you. Please forgive me and hurts I have caused you, just as I forgive you. Go in peace. You will remain in my heart.”

You could give back your wedding rings to each other at the conclusion of the ceremony.

You may like to choose a new piece of jewellery, for example a butterfly to symbolise your new found freedom in the world.

You and your ex-spouse may like to say words to your children to assure them that whilst the marriage is over and there will be changes for you all, that both of you will always love them dearly.

Some people ask for their marriage certificate to be burned within the ceremony. The symbolism of this is very powerful, however if you wish to include this then only ever burn a photocopy of the marriage certificate, never the original.


Like abortion divorce is not on everyone’s must have list. No couple walks down the aisle on their wedding day saying, “Hey, I can’t wait to get a divorce.” Couples marry with the full intention that their marriage will last a lifetime. For many couples, this is the case, but for those whose marriages end in divorce, we as a society should not make them feel stigmatized, nor describe them and their relationship in negative terms as a “failed marriage”.

Divorce affects the lives of so many families. It is a major life transition that society more often than not fails to recognize, and individuals wrongly are made to feel guilt, shame or failure about it.

A friend said that when your marriage breaks down it can feel like a bereavement but without the sympathy and respect afforded to someone whose spouse has died.

Sadly, mediation in divorce settlements is not the norm as it should be. Having satisfactory mediation would be an important part of alleviation the difficulties around divorce. However, a divorce ceremony before family and friends would be of benefit to the couple, any children and wider family and friends as things are properly acknowledged.

Divorce is one of the most significant rites of passage, affecting not only the divorcing people but their families, friends, and society. A healing and constructive way to honour divorce as a rite of passage is through a personalized and meaningful ceremony.

Those who have been through or are going through divorce need to know that they are brave individuals, and they should be respected for being able to come through this tough experience with the support of their community and belief in themselves. Personalized ceremonies that mark these milestones in people’s lives are vital for the health and well-being of people as individuals and our society.

A divorce ceremony should recognize the hurt and pain that divorce causes and begin, together with friends and family, the process of moving on and looking forward to a life of peace and happiness. The ceremony process does not abandon the past, but reclaims it. Within the ceremony, the following elements may be assembled: prose, poetry, music, and symbols that are chosen as important and meaningful.

Perhaps, by participating in a divorce ceremony that recognizes the event of divorce with compassion, dignity and humour all who have experienced divorce personally or in the lives of their loved ones will recognize the importance of paying homage to this life transition. In time, as more of these survival ceremonies come about, they will have a broader impact.

Celebrants believe that a ceremony of this kind where friends and family gather for their friend/friends in the spirit of acceptance and love and to alleviate the awkwardness often associated with divorce would be of benefit to all those concerned.

There are two types of Divorce/End of Relationship Ceremony. Where the former partners can be respectful of each other and can put their differences aside to focus on the needs of their children, the ceremony may be seen as a positive step towards separation. Vows may be retracted and formal statement of support for each other and for the children are made. This is particularly helpful as children often believe that they are the cause of the break-up, and a formal, public ceremony in which the former partners stress that their split does not mean a change in their relationship with the children can be very helpful.

The second type of ceremony, where only one partner is involved, will be different and has been described as more akin to a funeral but it doesn’t have to be. The good parts of the relationship are eulogised and steps are taken to help the ‘surviving party’ to move on.

A divorce ceremony mirrors a wedding and a funeral. It can involve some/all of the following. It involves saying goodbye to the past relationship. It acknowledges and celebrate what was good in that relationship and the growth each party underwent during and as a result of the relationship. It affirms your values. It acknowledges your move through the transitional phrase between being half of a couple to  being a single person again.

With both types of ceremony friends and family will be given the opportunity to show their support and acknowledge your new status and the positive aspects of this new status.

I have seen examples of religious and some very cringe making websites written by celebrants and self-help practitioners. I have read about some negative symbolism using voodoo dolls etc! Rituals involving photos, wedding albums, smashing rings, melting rings, returning rings, burning wedding dress, marriage certificates etc. The ceremony is not a time for focusing on the shortcomings of the ex-partner, settling old disputes or contain any content that is destructive and likely to increase conflict.

A ceremony helps participants to acknowledge the past, focus on the present and embrace the future, allows them to reclaim their identity and self-esteem, reduces feelings of animosity and conflict with ex-partner, focuses on positive aspects of beginning a new journey for the couple, their children, their family and friends. It can include a party of shared toasts and breaking bread, and it can also be a unique opportunity for adults to show support to their children and to share and recognize the place of family and friends. It can be a time to say thanks, sorry, acknowledge changes, getting older and looking forward to the next stage of life. And it is a time to party and have fun!

I don’t know if people will ever understand how necessary it is to officially end something that was officially begun but if we ever want to make peace with our pasts and find happiness in future love we need to mark the occasion. I am ready to do them so if you think this is for you do get in touch through the BHA celebrants website and ask me to conduct a very grown up divorce ceremony.

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