By Cindy Perman, CNBC.com
In the same way that brides consult 1,000 people along their path to bliss, from cake makers to DJs, divorcing couples have a ton of people to meet as they disembark from their marital joy ride.
Enter "Start Over Smart," a divorce expo that took place in New York City over the weekend. It was a lot like a bridal expo - only with less cake and more lawyers.
The expo was the brainchild of Francine Baras and Nicole Baras Feuer, a mother-daughter team who have both been touched by divorce. Baras was the child of divorce at a time when it was really a scarlet letter, even for the children. Some of the other children weren't allowed to play with her. She is now a child and family therapist. Baras Feuer is a professional mediator who herself has been through divorce.
"Bridal magazines are all over the place. There's no divorce magazine, no divorce community, so a lot of people just rely on information from their attorney," Baras Feuer said. She and her mom had already started writing a book to help guide divorcees through the process when they heard about a divorce expo in Paris. They spoke with their publisher and realized starting an expo here in the U.S. made sense - to gather even more information before they wrote their book.
The divorce expo was a two-day affair that included a wide variety of panel discussions, from guidelines for parents and divorce for Baby Boomers to how to get back in the dating game and sex after divorce.
(Hey, now don't get squeamish on me - If you've been with the same person for five, 10 or 20 years, you're going to need a few tips. Your waistline is different now, your hairline is different, your dating pool is different - and dating is different.)
There were about 40 exhibitors that ran the gamut, including lawyers, financial advisers, therapists, life coaches, dieticians, anti-aging companies, a hair stylist to the stars, a matchmaker and even a woman who will help you investigate a future date.
Morgan Stanley had a booth, with a glossy brochure that said, "Weathering Divorce," as did a woman who, for $500, will hold a "divorce ceremony," where you write words that remind you of your ex on a piece of paper and then burn them to help you move on.
"People often don't know the questions to ask about finances when they get a divorce," said Mark Seruya, financial advisor with Morgan Stanley. "People wind up getting referrals from parents or friends. Your father's financial adviser might not be the right fit," he said. "It's a fragmented market. We want to be one of the go-to teams in the divorce industry."
Evidence that people really don't know the right questions to ask a financial adviser: Seruya said one of the strangest questions he got all day was, "Can you hire a detective to scour my ex's emails?"
Indeed, you can hire a detective to investigate your ex or or your future date - for instance, someone like Maria Coder of InvestiDate, who also had a booth there - but Seruya clarified that you don't need to go through Morgan Stanley to do it!
And guys, if you're wondering where all the single ladies are, we found 'em - the Divorce Expo was a total cougar party! The breakdown was about 70 percent female to 30 percent male. Even the panel discussion, "Getting to the Other Side of Divorce: For Men," had more women than men attending. And, c'mon, that makes sense: Ladies, not men, stop and ask for directions when they're driving - divorce is no exception! Divorce is a lot harder than, say, going camping.
Just before that panel for men started, a woman in flowing black pants and a rhinestone belt reached across the aisle, smiled demurely, and handed a man her card.
A second marriage in progress?
Nope - she was a lawyer looking for business in the man panel.
Having all those lawyers around all these vulnerable people/potential clients made for an interesting mix.
In the panel discussion, "Litigation, Mediation & Collaborative Divorce," the litigator introduced herself by saying, "I'm not the wicked witch of the West!" catching the audience off guard. Even the former family court judge moderating that panel, after hearing "threat of court" one too many times, eventually said, "I'm dismayed to think for 23 years I was a threat not a promise … I don't want to leave you with the impression there's an ogre under the black robe!"
Cougars, witches and ogres ... oh my!
That panel alone, which felt at times like a simulated divorce court, was evidence of how tough divorce can be and why there is big demand for an expo like this.
"Getting divorced is much harder than getting married," Baras Feuer said. "When you're getting married, you have so much love and attention around you - and people know what to say," she said. " Getting divorced can be very isolating."
She said as soon as she started telling people about her own divorce, she became the go-to person for relationship and divorce advice.
"I became the Dear Abby of divorce!" she quipped.
To be clear, Baras Feuer said, they're not advocating divorce - they're simply offering information under one roof because so much of it can be confusing.
"We provide all the resources, information and support you need for going through your divorce and creating your post-divorce family, your post-divorce life," she said.
The event was such a hit, they hope to replicate it in other cities.
"If you know the right way to get divorced it can be not so bad," she said.
Indeed, while some of the raw emotion of divorce was palpable, there were some moments of levity.
Matchmaker Amy Laurent opened her presentation about getting back into the dating scene with C-Lo Greene's "Forget You!" blasting, and offered some amusing tips, including, "You want to know where all the eligible men are? Get off your couch. They're not circling your apartment!" Afterwards, she hosted a cocktail party to help people mingle.
Jewelry maker Kimberly Pauley, sitting between booths for the hairstylist to the stars and Ageloc anti-aging treatments and antioxidant supplements, makes necklaces and rings with fun sayings on them. For the expo, she created a special band that said, "Trade Up" - yep, to replace your wedding band!
And the mediator in the "Litigation, Mediation & Collaborative Divorce" panel offered this joke:
In a radio conversation between a U.S. Naval ship and Canadians, the Canadians say please divert your course 15 degrees to the north to avoid a collision. The ship replies, please divert your course 15 degrees to the south to avoid a collision. They keep trading commands like this. As the tension escalates, someone from the ship yells, "This is a U.S. aircraft carrier, divert your course!" The Canadians reply, "This is a lighthouse - your call."
Yep, that pretty much sums up divorce!
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