Divorce can be liberating for some. But starting over can be emotionally and financially taxing, as well. One British department store chain hopes to ease the transition for the recently divorced by launching a specialized gift list that family and friends can use to help newly single loved ones stock up on things like sheets, towels and appliances for their new home. You’ve heard of a wedding registry – well, this is a divorce registry.
“Obviously divorce is quite an expensive time with legal fees and it can be quite busy; there’s lots of stuff to think about,” says Ruth Attridge, spokeswoman for Debenhams department store, which has more than 150 outlets across Britain and Ireland. “So we thought well, we’ll set up a divorce gift list and maybe it’ll be a way for friends and family to help that person on their way a bit.” She says several customers turned the company onto the idea last year when they inquired whether there were divorce gift lists similar to the ones the chain offers for weddings, anniversaries and birthdays. Since the program was unveiled in January, calls have flooded in from curious prospective clients.
Setting up a divorce gift list is simple. Customers book an appointment at a store to pick the items they think they’ll want in their new place, with or without some help from the staff (a divorce registry specialist, if you will). Afterward, the selections are posted online for family and friends to browse and buy. Based on market research, Debenhams expects most divorce gift list recipients to be men, for the simple fact that more women tend to remain in the marital home after a breakup, especially if the couple has children.
The British chain is believed to be the first to launch such a program. However, given the proclivity of Americans for divorce – recent statistics put the U.S. divorce rate at about 3.5 per 1,000 people, or roughly half the marriage rate – it may only be a matter of time before the concept makes the jump across the pond. Indeed, divorce has become a big industry around the world, thanks in part to such high-profile celebrity splits like Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston and Heather Mills and Paul McCartney. “Celebrate-don’t-commiserate” products like greeting cards, sponge cakes and divorce-themed books are all the rage now in the U.S. and Europe. Christine Gallagher’s book The Divorce Party Planner includes a “full party plan,” with advice on gift ideas, games and appropriate divorce party music. And one London-based law firm, Lloyd Platt & Company, even sells divorce legal advice vouchers for $200 per half hour.
All of these items may be popular with consumers, but the trend has triggered a heated response from family advocacy groups. Norman Wells, director of the Britain-based Family Education Trust, says the Debenhams gift registry deliberately glorifies divorce, something he says could have been avoided had the chain devised a more generic “setting up new home” gift list. “This smacks of a cynical attempt by a high street chain to cash in on the misery of people whose marriages have come under pressure,” Wells says.
Attridge disagrees. “We’re certainly not encouraging divorce,” she says. “I don’t think there’s anyone who’s going to get divorced just so they can have a gift list.” Retail experts don’t see anything wrong with it either, saying the chain is just capitalizing on an untapped demographic and responding to customer demands. “Divorce is a sad fact, but it is a fact and any good retailer is always looking for new opportunities and innovative services and products they can offer,” says Richard Dodd, a spokesman for the British Retail Consortium. “Clearly, we’ve got a retailer who put those two things together.”
Some recent divorcÃ‰es also see a benefit to the service. Elizabeth Blessitt, who recently divorced her husband of 11 years, says a gift list could have come in handy when she was moving out on her own in Texas. “I was separated for nearly eight months before fully moving my things from our old apartment, so there were a lot of things with memories attached that I just either threw out or left behind,” the 33-year-old says. Blessitt ended up purchasing new towels and linens when she moved into her new place, as well as big-ticket items like a bed, desk and dresser – money she would have much rather saved.
But a divorce gift list isn’t just about stocking the new bachelor (or bachelorette) pad with cool stuff; it’s also about making a fresh start. And not having to dig out that makeshift milk crate coffee table from your old college days.