Debrett's guide to divorcing with decorum

Breaking up may be hard to do, but now it needn't be impolite. Jonathan Owen and Paige Long report

Once, the divorcee was up there with the leper and lecher as a social pariah. Today, so many marriages end in failure that the time has come to formalise the rules of disengagement.

Step forward Debrett's, chroniclers of the posh since 1769, whose guide to the peerage has provided essential reading for generations of social climbers. Since the mid-Nineties, the small publishing house has expanded into handbooks on etiquette, such as their popular "guide to the season".

Now, they have teamed up with the leading divorce lawyers Mishcon de Reya, who represented Diana, Princess of Wales, to create Debrett's Guide to Civilised Separation, published next month at £12.99.

The idea is to help warring couples maintain some decorum and good manners in the usually uncivilised business of divorce. "Throwing your husband's vintage wine collection down the loo or cutting his suits to shreds might seem like a therapeutic gesture when you're in the throes of rage and despair, but it can rebound on you and undermine your case," is a typical pearl of wisdom.

In addition to making statements of the bleeding obvious, the book offers practical information about the process of divorce, and tips on how to break the news to friends and colleagues. It gives a warning against the dangers of becoming a "divorce bore", as you risk being "struck off the dinner-party guest list" (though some people might feel that was a blessed relief).

Divorce is now a rite of passage for hundreds of thousands of people each year. One in three marriages breaks down by the 15th anniversary, compared with one in five in 1970. Figures released last month showed a 4.9 per cent rise in divorces in England and Wales – the first in seven years – in 2010, with 119,589 divorces compared with 113,949 in 2009. Fifty years ago there were just 28,935.

Consistent with the main point of social etiquette, which is to make life as agreeable as possible for everyone at all times, the new guide states that being "relentlessly polite and civilised" will "defuse any fall-out" among family and friends. It advises "friendly Christmas cards" to the in-laws and estranged friends: "nobody will be able to fault your good manners."

The guide also urges people to take a "minder" along when attending events where their ex will be, to monitor their "behaviour, alcohol intake and emotions".

As for "correct forms of address", the guide adopts a traditional line, reminding women that convention dictates keeping "Mrs" and their married surname, but using their own forename. It makes allowances for younger women to revert to their maiden name.

Conrad Free, the chairman of Debrett's, said: "We're trying to help people through a step-by-step process in what can be an emotional minefield."

Sandra Davis, the head of family law at Mishcon de Reya, said: "Even in the most difficult of personal situations, courteous and considerate behaviour helps to reduce animosity and distress."

One woman whose divorce came through this month said it was not a civilised affair. Karen Hopkin, a 46-year-old mother of one from Folkestone, Kent, said: "Going through the process of divorce was incredibly difficult. We hardly ever communicate, and if we do, it's through text message."

She added: "Books like Debrett's would have helped me cope with my new life, but it needs to be a shared process. If your partner isn't willing then it doesn't really work."

As with anything that requires the involvement of lawyers, divorce is now a multimillion-pound industry. Seal and Heidi Klum were rumoured yesterday to be the latest high-profile couple to call it a day after six years together. Set against the thousands of pounds that can be spent on lawyers in such cases, £12.99 could be a worthwhile investment.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

    £28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

    £16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk