Unitarian Universalist divorce ceremonies transmit a message of hope and love in a public setting, acknowledging the role of society in the couple's lives. Unitarians view divorce as an Ending rite of passage, corresponding to the Partnering rite that is marriage. Both are viewed as life choices, which are supported as long as they are healthy for all concerned.

Because of this flexibility, the Unitarian church was actually creating divorce rituals as far back as the 1960's, and there are a few "standard" ceremonies that ministers draw upon today, adapting each to personalize the event.

Official Stance on Divorce: "Unitarian Universalists hold that divorce is entirely a matter for conscientious decision on the part of the persons involved."
(From What is a Unitarian Universalist?)

When? At any time the participants are ready; before or after civil divorce.

Who Participates? The couple, a minister, and friends and family; a more intimate group than for a wedding, but large enough to reflect the community in which the family has lived. Congregants generally don't participate but are present to bear witness to the couple's desire to begin anew. As a community event with a message of affirmation and hope, this would be a good ceremony for including children, who may also feel the relief (expressed in the text of the ceremony) at the resolution of the tensions they've felt in their parents' marriage.

Where? Church setting; a public forum is important in this ritual. This reflects the couple's determination to divorce in a manner as sacred (and public) as that in which they married.

The Ceremony:
In the welcome, the minister invokes the sanctity of the church setting: "We are gathered here in a place made holy by the aspirations and dreams of many men and women.here today we bring ourselves and our hopes." The minister sounds an optimistic note, acknowledging that this may mark the end of a period of great pain for the couple: "We assemble with many feelings: sadness and disappointment and apprehension. But also, perhaps, [with] relief and hope and approval."

The minister points out that the couple's life journey requires their marriage to end "in this solemn, courageous--and hopeful--time of divorce." They are asked if it is indeed their intention to "sunder those noble and sacred bonds and dreams," and they affirm that this is true.

The minister reminds them that they were married within the community, and that the community is now present for their divorce. The individuals are then led in an affirmation that, though their marriage is ending, they will endeavor to value the past and enter a new, respectful relationship that transcends the pain and bitterness of the recent past.

Another Unitarian divorce ritual suggests that the partners offer apologies to one another: "I confess to God and to you, (name), that I have hurt you and caused you pain, and that I have not been able to fulfill my marriage promise to you. I ask your forgiveness and the forgiveness of God." The other partner accepts this apology with the following words: "I forgive you. May God also forgive you." At this point, the wedding rings are returned, and the minister releases the couple from their vows, proclaiming that they're free to enter a new life and to love again: "Go forth, not in the hurt of ties wrenched and faith unachieved, but with hope and belief in love yet possible."

The minister calls on society to acknowledge and support the couple in their decision to separate. "It is to peace that God has called you.we your families and friends, (as well as the law of the land--if applicable), now recognize that your marriage is ended...May God bless your separate lives and homes." The couple shakes hands, and those who are gathered depart.

Word to the Wise: Unitarian ministers strive to build ceremonies that are "deeply spiritual and memorable, being firmly based on the integrity and compassion of the minister and the deep needs of those for whom the service is conducted." So even if relations with your spouse are too rocky to consider one of the ceremonies available, you'll probably find a great deal of openness here around building a personalized ceremony.

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