Coverage of life after divorce scant

Because of the rising number of marriages now ending in divorce, the press and consumer brands should pay more attention to this growing audience.

Because of the rising number of marriages now ending in divorce, the press and consumer brands should pay more attention to this growing audience.

By now the statistics are well known: half of all marriages end in divorce, and the figure climbs to 60% for second marriages.

But the ways those numbers impact the traditional family could be a story the general-interest press is under-reporting.

"One in three Americans today lives in a stepfamily, so you could argue it really should be in the media more," says Dawn Miller, who runs and writes a biweekly syndicated column on blended families. "There is a lot of coverage out there on parenting, but it would great to see more coverage of step-parenting because there is a difference."

Sporadic coverage

That's not to say that life after divorce is completely ignored by mainstream reporters, especially legal and family writers.

"Custody and the changing nature of the family is something that we have gotten some traction on, especially with regard to prenuptial agreements," says Jonathan Dedmon of The Dilenschneider Group, which rep- resents the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. "As people are getting married for the second and third time, they're realizing that these agreements are important, especially when you have sets of stepkids with different inheritance rights."

Diana Shepherd, editorial director of Divorce, which publishes state-specific magazines in Florida, Texas, New York, New Jersey, California, and Illinois, says she receives calls from mainstream reporters to comment on trends in divorce, remarriages, and stepfamily issues.

"The one problem I have with the general-interest press is they focus too much on 'divorce from hell' stories. I guess they sell, but conflict divorce is a really small percentage of divorces."

Miller notes that some media outlets are realizing their changing audience and adding more seasonal, news-you-can-use coverage aimed at blended families. "I was in The New York Times over the holidays in a technology column that focused on resources for dealing with some of the things that come up over the holidays," she says. "There's a real interest on the part of the media to want to help people sort out all those issues because many parents sharing custody have these heavily negotiated holidays where stepchildren spend all day with one parent on Thanksgiving and the other parent on Christmas."

But during other parts of the year, coverage can be somewhat sporadic, and Miller suggests one reason for that might be that there are no advocacy groups aggressively pushing stepfamily issues in the press.

Dedmon adds that a lack of hard statistics on stepfamilies and custody issues might also contribute to the lack of consistent coverage. "One of the challenges we [face] is with good data from our standpoint," he says. "Because divorce is handled by the state court systems, there aren't many good national studies on issues, such as how often does the father get sole custody."

There are handful of syndicated newspaper and magazine columnists covering divorce and blended family issues, but, in general, this is often a story without a dedicated journalistic beat.

"We sometimes deal with lifestyle editors, and, if an interesting case comes up in a local court, you'll get the legal editor," Dedmon says. "In our case, we also target the legal publications, as well as the personal finance writers of major business publications. The Personal Journal section of The Wall Street Journal comes to us on issues, such as the use of arbitration versus a court proceeding to protect the privacy of records."

Interest from companies

Much like a decade ago, when major brands suddenly discovered the gay community, Shepherd suggests that consumer product companies - and their marketing and PR firms - might soon realize they are leaving money on the table by not reaching out to divorced people and stepfamilies.

"There are very few other times in your life when as much money gets unleashed and as much spending takes place," she says. "Decisions get made ranging from what credit card you'll have to what gym you're going to join. And if there's kids going back and forth, you'll need two sets of beds, two set of bikes, two Nintendo machines. So whether you want to or not, you're going to be spending money."


Pitching... post-marriage stories

  • The divorce rate has created a huge audience that is learning to move on after a marriage. They need to be pitched differently from the traditional single

  • There are some brands still reluctant to get involved with stories that deal with divorce or stepfamilies. But emphasize that one in three Americans are now living in a blended family and that ignoring them means ignoring a huge consumer base

  • Most people are reluctant to go public with divorce or stepfamily issues, so it might take a bit longer to come up with testimonials that can humanize this type of story

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