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Separation and Divorce Ceremonyhow to create a divorce or separation ceremony

Quotation markThe separation of a close relationship or divorce are a painful transition for most people who experience them – the two individuals who were in relationship and also the children, family and friends that were a part of the marriage and its breakdown. It is a time of great upheaval, uncertainty, challenges and also new horizons and possibilities.

A well crafted and considered ceremony can make a difference to all those participating - whether it is a meeting of just the couple and a witness or a large gathering. It can offer healing, closure, clarity and vision. Taking the time and creating a sacred space where the relationship can be honoured for all the gifts, including the challenges is a powerful acknowledgement that that the separation or divorce is not a sign of failure, it was a inevitable consequence of change and circumstances. It can assist both parties to feel a sense of closure and moving forward.

carl and emma

Carl and Emma came to me with a clear idea of what they had wanted and also asked if there was anything I could suggest. I listened to their ideas – they wanted a simple declaration of a few statements offering closure and the willingness to move forward.

I suggested that it would set the tone for the ceremony by us all arriving at the same time to the venue and rather than begin with any chatter other than a ‘welcome’, move immediately into the ceremony area and each one of us light a candle and sit quietly for a moment.

I had set up the area with three comfortable chairs facing each other  (in which we could sit upright rather than lounging) and a small round table in the centre with three unlit candles and one candle already lit (one that had come from Taize, France – the spiritual centre for love, peace and reconciliation).

They arrived separately and on time and we said hello then moved into the ceremonial area.  They each brought  a small bunch of flowers spontaneously - the lady had brought some flowers from their previous marriage home garden and the gentleman brought some frangipanis.  I arranged these quietly on the table and invited them to be comfortable and take a moment to sit quietly, with their eyes closed if they wished to, and become aware of their bodies – their physical sensations, emotions, thoughts and their breathing.

Inviting them to both become really present gave them a focus that would naturally allow them to settle. After a few minutes I asked them to gently open their eyes and I acknowledged the light from the Taize candle and what it represented – peace, love and reconciliation.

 As agreed prior to this day we each then lit a candle with a silent prayer/request for these qualities to be present.

 They had brought a piece of paper on which were the agreed upon statements that honoured the marriage and separation and all the aspects that they brought into the relationship. It stated the responsibility they took for the breakdown of the relationship and that they wished each other well on their new journey. 

Once this was spoken slowly and thoughtfully to each other in turn they then signed the paper it was written on. I signed as their witness to this declaration. It was a solemn affair and there were a few tears shed. They exchanged a simple hug at the end and they went their way. It was simple yet very powerful.

Divorce ceremonies or celebrations can take any shape or form. It is my intention in this article to focus on respectful rituals, whether it involves one or both of the parties, rather than rituals designed to foster animosity towards another (which I do understand happens).

alinita and sam

Alinta invited the family and friends who had joined her for her wedding day, five years earlier, acknowledging that they had been there at the marriage ceremony five years ago offering their support. Now she was asking for their support to help her through this difficult transition (Sam did not want to be involved in the ceremony) recognizing that she had not been able to make their marriage work. Alinta organized a late afternoon ceremony with a party to follow. She even set up a divorce register at one of the local stores as she said, ‘A gift at this time of some essential household items will mean a lot. Our divorce cost me greatly in legal fees and I really appreciate this support’.

About thirty guests joined her for the ceremony. There were a few items from her wedding day placed on a small table. I welcomed everyone and then invited Alinta to speak. She honoured the relationship she shared with Sam, acknowledged the gratitude for all that she had learnt, and shared a brief poem about the heartache and hurt that had also been present – all making her stronger in the bigger picture. There was no blame just an earnest request for forgiveness and the desire to move forward.  She had asked for my presence, as a celebrant, to formalize the separation with words we had written together; to declare her decision to reclaim her maiden name and to invite people to come forward and offer her blessings for this next journey. It was a heartwarming and rich ceremony that touched everyone present.
Whether you are going to have a celebrant or hold your own gathering, whether it will be a simple ritual or an upbeat celebration it can be useful to ask a few key questions:

What do you want to achieve?

Are you ready for this ceremony to take place?

Do you have any unfinished business you need to address (to discuss either with each other and/or counselor) (While this may be a ‘yes’ a ceremony can still be very effective in assisting the process of separation and could happen even if this is the case. It is important however to acknowledge what is happening – you may choose to seek professional counseling as part of the preparation of the ceremony/celebration).

What do you imagine happening and how will the ceremony achieve this?

The wording is best left simple and from the heart. 

example of a separation and divorce ceremony

Celebrant: After 12 years of living together – with lots of love, laughter, adventures, anger, frustration, effort and pain Zach and Rachel have chosen that they no longer wish to be husband and wife. They want to publicly acknowledge that their marriage is no longer serving them in a healthy way and wish to formally change the status of their relationship in front of you, their closest family and friends. In the spirit of acceptance, love and the willingness to move forward, they still choose to respect each other and to be friends. They know it will take time to adjust to the major transition they are both facing and ask that both parties speak and act with care and respect in all regards, and that you, as their community, support and uphold them in this endeavour.

They are now and will continue to be loving and responsible parents to their children, Amber and Jon.

Zach: Rachel, I am grateful for all that we have shared – the love, the laughter, the good and difficult times. I know that I have hurt you and caused you pain. I have not been able to fulfill my marriage vows to you, and for this I ask for your forgiveness.

Rachel: Zach, I forgive you.

Zach: I honour our role as parents to our beautiful children, Amber and Jon and declare my willingness to co-parent them responsibly and lovingly.  I will honour the importance of this role that we share. Rachel, I wish you well on your path that is now to be separate from mine. May you know peace and happiness.

Rachel: Thank you. (Rachel declared the same statement and request to Zach)

Celebrant: We, your family and friends, who are your witnesses to this declaration, recognize the respect and dignity which you have shown each other in this time of difficulty, which has often been painful and confusing. May you find renewal and enrichment in your individual lives. May you find comfort and support in your family and friends around you. Your lives will remain connected through your love of Amber and Jon yet your personal lives are that of two independent people. May you both know peace and happiness in your homes and lives. May you continue to honour and respect each other in your now separate and individual lives.

They have asked me to share this quote by the Buddha, ‘To those in whom love dwells, the whole world is but one family.’ Rachel and Zach honour this truth particularly at this time.

Thank you for joining, Zach and Rachel here today, and they would like to invite you to witness the signing of their divorce certificate before joining them for afternoon tea which will be served on the beach side lawns.

- end ceremony

Separation or divorce ceremonies are about healing and transition. They can encourage the expression of appreciation and the honouring of the gifts and growth that occurred in the relationship. It can also be a time to affirm your values and what is important to you. It is an opportunity to say goodbye to the way things were, to your life as a couple, and to acknowledge your new status as a single person. The ceremony can create a vision or statement of the ‘new life’.

As Brian, 43, said, ‘I wanted to acknowledge the beauty that came out of our 22 year marriage and to let go of the pain and anguish. We both took a lot of time thinking about our divorce ceremony and, as part of this process with the help of our counselor, we were able to bring to light things that should have been said many years before. ‘

Celebrating life’s milestones such as a separation or divorce can offer growth and healing, forgiveness of oneself and one’s ex and a healthy outlook on the way forward.  It can also just be a great way to let your family and friends know that you’re ok and ready to move on with a vision to the future.

There are many celebrants who can help you with the creation of something very sacred.

Many blessings on your journey.

Wendy Haynes Signature

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