If you’ve gotten married, or have friends who are married, you are likely familiar with wedding gift registries. This is where the couple registers at their favorite stores and selects items they would like to receive to help them start their new life together. Wedding gift registries make buying gifts easier and takes the guesswork out of what you’ll get for a couple who are getting married.
While it’s become the norm for couples to register with gift registries when they get engaged, a new practice is being introduced that is raising some eyebrows. This is a divorce registry.
What Are Divorce Registries?
When a couple gets married, they merge their households. They don’t need two of everything so they get rid of one item or set and keep the other. Items they don’t have, they ask for through registries.
But sometimes marriages don’t work out. When a couple gets divorced it’s a sad time. It can also be a tough time for one or both of the individuals, since splitting up also means splitting their belongings, most of which they now only have one of. Who gets the microwave? The vacuum? How about the sound system or the computer?
Even if a split is equitable, each person will be left with only some items that they need, while lacking others. Financial considerations also play a role in two people who are divorcing can afford to buy when they set up separate households. Usually, each person is less well off after a divorce than when they were married.
To help people who are divorcing start over when they may not have the resources to buy everything they need, a new opportunity has been created. This is the establishment of divorce registries. These registries remain relatively rare with only a few stores establishing them or allowing “divorce” to be used when signing up for their registry.
Examples of Divorce Registries
After Olivia Dreizen Howell divorced, she discovered the first night living away from her ex, that she no longer had a toothbrush holder. When she took stock, she realized that there were many items, some small and inexpensive, others less so, that she no longer had.
But even if many of the items were small, when they were put together, they added up in terms of cost. She found herself thinking, “‘Why isn’t there a place that people can go and get product recommendations and celebrate this change, while bringing their community in?'”
In October of 2021, together with her sister Genevieve Dreizen who had ended an engagement in 2020, she launched Fresh Starts. The site states it’s there to help people get a fresh start whether the need is due to “divorce, separation, coming out, moving on, or simply a new beginning.” Fresh Starts is a resource guide not just so people can receive gifts to replace what they lost following the end of a relationship or other difficult situation, but also to provide reviews of divorce related goods and services.
For example, on the Fresh Starts website, you can get recommendations for therapists, divorce lawyers, nutritionists, mortgage lenders, DIY specialists, style coaches, household products and clothing stores among others. For those who provide a service or sell a product who want to be in the sites resource guide they can get a membership for $500 a year. There are also featured articles that those who are starting over or starting from scratch might be interested in.
Another site, Divorcist, is similar and will launch in February of 2022. Founder Eliza Cussen says, “Our mission is to make divorce and separation dignified. We really saw the need. . . We’re trying to elevate divorce, separation and breakups to the same status as a life event. Not a happy one, but one that deserves recognition.”
Divorcist is a gift registry for people experiencing breakups, separation, divorce, “and beyond”. They focus on helping those transitioning into a new phase of life through offering brands based in the USA and Canada with a preference for women-owned and independent businesses. They mention that they strive to keep the cost of products down with as little markup as possible. This site also lets you create a cash fund in case you can’t find what you need or are looking for, as their list is constantly expanding and new products are always growing. Similar to Fresh Starts, Divorcist provides a wealth of information in a variety of articles which are already being published.
Criticism of Divorce Registries
While many feel that divorce registries are a logical development and, in some cases, even more important than wedding registries given the division of property and financial obligations, others are critical of the idea. This is primarily due to the continued stigma surrounding divorce.
While there is generally greater acceptance of divorce in recent years, many who have been divorced say that they experience daily judgement from people because their marriage has failed. At least 10 percent of those who are divorced say that they stayed in the marriages longer because they feared the stigma associated with becoming a divorcee. Over a third or those surveyed said that they attempted to salvage their marriage as they knew that getting divorced would be viewed as a personal failure.
Many people oppose divorce registries not because they are critical about divorce but because they feel that it is not something to celebrate with gifts. For a number of people there is still a sense that, while sometimes divorce is necessary, it isn’t something you need to announce and that you should complete the process quietly and without fanfare. There is also an idea that a divorce registry equates divorce with marriage, while marriage is seen as something positive and divorce is not viewed in the same light.
Because of these factors, although divorce registries are revisited every so often by many stores, owners are hesitant to set them up due to concerns over public opinion and whether it would affect their bottom line. This has made it so those who would like to take advantage of such registries are forced to either use Amazon which some avoid because of their perceived ties to ICE, or Targets which limits people to one chain.
There are some stores that allow you to register for housewarming gifts or have a generic “celebration” option for registries. But many people find that in order to register for stores of their choice they have to pretend they are getting married or having a baby, which can limit the types of items that are available.
Negative Feelings Get in the Way of Registering and Informing Others
Even when there are stores that someone feels they can use to register for items needed after a marriage ends, they may not find they can actually sign up when the time comes. This is because they may have feelings of shame and guilt regarding asking for items in the case of a divorced. They also may find they question whether they actually need the items they would like to ask for and how others will perceive them asking for gifts for such an occasion. For a wedding, a lot of people register for expensive items that they really don’t need but want to receive as a kind of “dream gifts” or things they would never purchase for themselves. In the case divorce, however, they may feel that people need to believe they were unable to purchase the items due to financial hardship for it to be appriate to ask.
Many have noticed that these are feelings and concerns that didn’t come up when they were registering for wedding gifts. Essentially, they feel like they are going against societal norms in asking people to buy things for them on the occasion of their divorce. So, while there are large numbers of people who get divorced in the U.S., for a lot of them, the idea of participating in a divorce registry may seem like something they shouldn’t do because of how others might view it or because of their own negative feelings related to a sense of failure.
Although there are some registries being developed that are specifically intended and designed for those getting divorced or other life events that might not be traditionally celebrated, there are still a few factors that may get in the way of such sites being successful. These may include others’ perceptions that divorce isn’t something that should be celebrated like marriage and there being a continued stigma whether real or perceived that is associated with divorce. Additionally, individuals who might otherwise want to take advantage of such a registry may feel reluctant to sign up for one, believing that their divorce indicates failure and shouldn’t be rewarded. Or it may be because they fear that others will view them asking for gifts as something shameless, feeling offended by the percieved belief that the individual views divorce positively.
When someone gets divorced, often family and friends want to help but don’t know how. People may reach out emotionally, but it isn’t in keeping with societal norms to ask someone what they need financially in terms of items that they don’t have any longer. A registry could help give those who care about someone getting a divorce something concrete that they can do to help, making it more comfortable for them to do so as well as more acceptable to the person receiving the help.
© 2022 Natalie Frank