Sunday, May 18, 2008

Free divorce - a winner, or just a booby prize?

Pic: My divorce book, Happily Ever Parted

Lately, people have been asking me to comment on the latest controversial competition to come from the makers of trashy men’s magazine Zoo Weekly.
The magazine is offering its readers an Australian first – the chance to win an all-expenses paid divorce.
The Zoo’s editor Paul Merill says that one reader will win everything they need to unleash themselves back to the glory of bachelorhood – including their solicitors’ fees (paid up to $5,000); their divorce application fee ($639); a cleaner for two months and a plasma TV (in case their other half grabs theirs). The prize also includes a three-tiered divorce cake; a divorce party with Zoo girls; a PS3 to fill the long, lonely hours; and a year’s subscription to the magazine.
“If a marriage fails it’s sad, but what’s sadder is being stuck under the same roof as a woman who’s just slept with your best mate,” says Paul. “Our lucky winner will get to escape and start a whole new life. We’ll help him at every stage – from buying him a new plasma screen and throwing him a party, to finding him a new girlfriend.”
To get the prize, readers simply must write in 100 words or less, why they deserve to be divorced from the woman of their dreams – er – nightmares.
And of course, the competition has divided Australia. Are they promoting divorce? Is a free divorce really something readers will aspire to – or is it just a booby prize? (Pardon the pun). Okay, here are my thoughts.
Firstly, Zoo Weekly is not known for its insightful articles, or tasteful photographs. It’s known for smutty stories, leery girly pics, and lots of sexual innuendo. And we already know that in an attempt to boost circulation, they ran another competition giving a reader’s partner a free boob job. So we shouldn’t really be surprised they’ve come up with this competition as a marketing strategy. And it’s obviously working. Internet forums are full of men and women railing at each other, and the do-gooders are up in arms.
From my point of view, a free divorce isn’t exactly a bad idea … but hear me out … there must be a few provisos.
To be ethical, the mag really should be offering the same amount of money and benefits to both parties – male and female. Often, money is a sticking point in a divorce, and it’s unethical to allow one party access to a solicitor and all the rest, without giving the same opportunity to the other person.
Two, why is there no mention of counselling here? Even if the winner fails to take it up, counselling should be an option. Again, it’s expensive to get counselling, and sometimes the people who most need it – that is, people in the middle of a divorce – just can’t afford it. Counselling is far better than just talking to a family member or friend, because they’re qualified to give advice, they’re objective, and they’ll tell you what you need to know – not what you want to know.
Three, What is the magazine expecting of the winner in return for the pound of flesh on offer? Are they going to be wanting a tell-all interview, giving all reasons why the marriage ended? Photos? The Lot?
Again, this isn’t on. It’s not fair to the other person – who may not want to be involved in media coverage – and if there are kids involved, it’s actually evil. Divorce is hard enough on families without bringing it into the media. That just gives every man and his dog and child a reason to comment – Shane Warne anyone?
Four. The person wanting the divorce must be truly sure they know what they are doing. Ideally, they’ve been separated for some time and have set all the processes in motion. It can’t be just an easy get-out. They must have at least tried to make their marriage work, and know that this is what they really want. Otherwise, it’s making divorce just too easy.
Five. Offering the chance to date is just crazy. In this industry, everyone knows that a divorce is like a death, and you need time to come to terms with your loss, the end of the marriage, and to learn who you really are and what you really want.
This isn’t just girl-talk, it goes for men as well. Jumping from one relationship into another without taking time to breathe is a recipe for disaster. And it’s trivializing the relationship you’ve had before, and the time you’ll need to get over it. Sure date – eventually. But allow yourself time to be comfortable with yourself before moving on.
Six. Don’t think that just because you’ve been given an easy ride, and the plasma TV, that divorce is going to be easy. It’s not. Yes, a paid divorce will take some of the financial concerns away, but it’s still going to be tough emotionally. And when all the Zoo girls have gone home, you’ll still be facing a new life, alone.
But apart from all that, if you’ve already set divorce plans in motion, and you’re certain this is what you want, go for it.
The interesting thing is that though the editor has been lamblasted for being sexist for running the competition, it's not the first thing he's tried this tactic to boost circulation.Back in 1999, Paul was assistant editor at English WOMEN'S magazine Chat.
Back then he ran a 'Ditch A Loser With A Free Divorce' competition. To win a 500 pound prize, readers had to write in and explain why they deserved to leave their marriage. Sound familiar?
Here's what he said at the time: "Marriage is a sacred institution, divorce isn't, it's a good way of getting shot of your bloke if he's been messing around or treating you cruelly."
Obviously, the stunt attracted the same kind of attention in the UK as it did here. I'm not sure how that one ended up, but I do have advice to anyone considering entering for this freebie: Like a good marriage, a good divorce means a lot of hard work, and is an experience that will change your life forever.
And given that 49 per cent of divorcees regret the end of their marriage later, be careful what you wish for.


meryl's musings said...

Came across your blog today -- interesting article. Had not heard of this story here in the US, but I'll be surprised if someone doesn't try to mimic it!

Bronnie said...

Thanks for visiting. I'm surprised this trend hasn't hit the US yet - we tend to follow you guys.