May. 28, 2014 8:33 AM EDT
By Leanne Italie
NEW YORK (AP) - Divorce, it seems, has turned into a party - special cakes and all.
Event planners, bakers, lawyers and academics note the rise of "divorce parties" over the last several years, many with cakes featuring weapon-wielding brides or gloomy black frosting on inverted tiers.
"I've taken to naming them freedom fests, as you aren't celebrating the end of the marriage but the freedom you have chosen in your life," said Richard O'Malley, a New York-area event planner who organized one divorce blowout that cost a woman about $25,000.
Michal Ann Strahilevitz, a marketing professor at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, has been to a few such parties and sees them as part of a larger trend in celebrations.
"People are also celebrating 'coming out' to their parents or co-workers, and the birthdays of their pets. Cancer survivors are celebrating relevant milestones of being cancer-free. There has been an enormous increase in the variety of things that Americans celebrate," she said.
So why not a divorce, asks Steve Wolf, who lives outside Austin, Texas. He marked his amicable split with a party co-hosted by his ex that included a gluten-free cake she baked herself in lemon, a favorite flavor for both of them.
Wolf, the father of three boys, considers the end of his marriage a "conscious uncoupling." Yes, like Gwyneth Paltrow. The party, he said, offered closure, especially important because kids were involved.
"We wanted to do something that expressed the fact that we were doing the divorce not so much as an end of our relationship but as us moving into things like co-parenting and co-business management," said Wolf, whose former wife works for him in his special effects and stunt business serving the film industry.
"We cut the cake together like we did the wedding cake 10 years before. When life gives you lemons, make lemon cake," he joked, noting the sentiment she wrote in the icing.
In suburban Orlando, Florida, cake designer Larry Bach recalled creating his first divorce confection about eight years ago for a woman whose wedding cake he had made 18 months prior.
"She said, 'Your wedding cake was the best part of my marriage,'" he recalled. "We came up with this upside-down cake, with the cake landing on the groom. I've repeated that design several times. I think it's a healthy thing. When my sister got divorced about 25 years ago, she and my mother went into mourning. Divorce was so embarrassing in those days."
Family law attorney Jennifer Paine in Ann Arbor, Michigan, sees the divorce cake - blood-themed or otherwise - as a fresh take on closure.
"For divorce, that means the final date of divorce, when all of the hard work and emotions are over," she said. "It used to mean going out with buddies. Then there was the era of sending a divorce card, then the trip to Las Vegas, and now parties."
Parties, O'Malley noted, that include cakes with the wife pushing the husband off the top tier or edible divorce decrees scanned on. Dessert chef Lisa Stevens in Tampa, Florida, makes one divorce cake a month now, a steady climb over the last year.
"We call them freedom cakes. The first one was maybe six years ago. It was ordered by a guy. It had a groom with a broken heart on his lapel," she said. "I try to redirect the anger to a more positive place when it comes to the cake."
Duff Goldman, chef and owner of Charm City Cakes in Baltimore and Charm City Cakes West in Los Angeles, said he has been creating divorce cakes for a decade, with one or so orders a month nowadays.
"We're thrilled to put a positive spin on what can be a difficult and stressful time for people," said Duff, whose custom cakes were featured on the Food Network reality show "Ace of Cakes" from 2006 to 2011.
O'Malley's first big divorce client popped up two years ago. She's the one who hosted the $25,000 bash at a fancy venue, complete with a cocktail reception, sit-down dinner, toasts and an eight-piece band. She wore white, though not her wedding gown.
"We set up a chapel-looking area and her father walked down the aisle by himself to take her back, instead of give her away," said O'Malley, who has handled several divorce parties since.
The bridesmaid who caught the woman's bouquet eight years prior threw one back to her, he said. Wedding gifts were photographed, placed in silver frames and given to gifters in attendance.
"This is something you don't have to regret, like the wedding," O'Malley said. "It's something without any shame."