Sydney, Australia

While Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows the country's divorce rate began trending down in the 2000s, divorce continues to impact thousands of Australian families a year with the latest figures showing slightly more than 49,000 divorces were granted in 2019.

And while some people may end their marriages amicably, divorce is often devastating and leaves people angry, bitter and hurt for years, as well as financially worse off with estimates that the financial cost of divorce in 2019 could easily have been $A980 million or more - possibly $A1 billion - based on a legal bill for each party of $A10,000.

Broken heart

More than 49,000 divorces were granted in Australia in 2019, according to ABS data. While divorce is often devastating, DivorceCare is a Biblically-based program that offers those impacted “a path from healing to hope”. PICTURE: Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

Into this space, attempting to provide the tools for personal growth and forgiveness as well as managing the stresses and emotions associated with marital breakdown, separation and divorce, comes DivorceCare - a Biblically-based program that provides “a path from healing to hope”.

"I love it because it’s often a group of people who might see themselves as shunned by the church or might not feel worthy to be engaging with church."

- Rev Andrew Carnell of Bridgeman Baptist Community Church in Brisbane, Queensland.

Developed in the US, DivorceCare was founded in the 1990s by Steve Grissom and his second wife Cheryl, both of whom were divorced. Together with ministry partner Denise Hildreth Jones, and a team of 25 Christian professionals - from psychologists to counsellors and pastors, all of whom have experienced separation and divorce - DivorceCare now speaks to thousands of people in churches around the world through its comprehensive video program that deals with conflict, anger, hurt, anxiety and depression, among other topics.

Since it began, DivorceCare has helped more than one million people from the US and Canada, to the Netherlands, China, the UK and Malaysia, according to its website.

In Australia, it continues to operate regularly in many denominations, whether for one person or larger groups.

Bridgeman Baptist Community Church in Brisbane, Queensland, has been running DivorceCare courses for four years, reaching between 100 and 150 Christians and non-believers alike.

Rev Andrew Carnell says the program is a powerful tool for healing and a blessing for the church.

“Definitely [and] I love it because it’s often a group of people who might see themselves as shunned by the church or might not feel worthy to be engaging with church,” Carnell told Sight.

DivorceCare advertisement

An advertisement for the DivorceCare program at Brisbane's Bridgeman Baptist Community Church. PICTURE: Peta McCartney

“For us, as a church, we love that our arms are wide open and not only wide open, but wanting to journey with people who have been through separation and divorce. It creates an amazing avenue just to love, and for God to bring healing and support, and encouragement and community with that group of people.

“[So] I think it’s a wonderful opportunity. I’m so glad it’s one of the ministries our church offers - we are blessed by being able to offer it and also people are blessed.”

Participants embark on the program over the course of 13 weeks, meeting as a group, using the program’s resources and engaging in discussion groups in a safe space with supportive facilitators and among people who share their own stories.

Carnell said while there had been some limitations and challenges with online groups at a time when they were unable to run the face-to-face program due to COVID-19 and lockdowns, there had also been opportunities and benefits.

“There was a person from regional Queensland who was able to engage and someone even from England...because it went online,” he said.

As well, a handful of people have taken part in the Alpha program over the years and integrated into the church community.

More than 900 kilometres away in Parramatta, in New South Wales, chaplain Mary Jacob coordinates DivorceCare at the Son Rise Church. Her involvement in the ministry spans two states after she was involved in running the program at her former church in Queensland.

She sees the positive changes that DivorceCare brings to those who attend Son Rise Church’s two programs a year, “in God’s grace”.

“When they walk into the program, they are confused, they are hurt, they are angry. They are upset, they are rejected, abused, but when they walk out after the 13th session, they walk out feeling supported, feeling acknowledged, feeling loved,” she said.

Jacob acknowledges the problems may still be there, but participants leave equipped with tools, strategies and skills to deal with a myriad of emotions, and also learn how to forgive.

“We see they are more confident, more positive. They are actually able to smile - sometimes, even through their tears - because they have found a new sense of purpose, a new identity and they know that they are valuable in God’s sight.”

She said this even manifests in finding contentment in their singleness, when they realise, “they don’t need another person to make them feel complete or whole”.

“They can be happy and they can feel complete and accepted because they know they have worth, and God loves them.”

Participants at Bridgeman Baptist’s program touch on the support and grace they experience through the program.

One person who attended DivorceCare before becoming a leader says it provides “healing and growth to many struggling with the pain of separation/divorce” and allowed her to find a “deeper appreciation of God’s faithfulness and steadfast love”.

Another wrote that they had seen participants arrive “looking for understanding and healing”, and most left “with a deeper appreciation of God’s love and a perception of how He wants to heal them”.

But for another, it was the sense that they needed a Christian perspective to process what they were going through.

“I think that course has really bought home the need for me to forgive, even though I have been so betrayed – it has also reminded me of the support, love, and strength there is in God and through His people,” they said.

Two people talking over coffee

 DivorceCare operates in many churches in Australia, for both individuals and larger groups. PICTURE: 

As well as the adult program, churches also can offer DivorceCare for Kids (DC4K), which runs at the same time as the adult course, designed to bring hope and healing to children and allow them to develop healthy relationships within their families.

For Jacob, there is nothing better than seeing the people who walk into the program emerge each week a little stronger, even though the journey is “difficult”.

“Every session brings a little bit of healing. You come, you cry a little - you heal a little, then the next session you come and you cry a little...and you heal a little [more].”

While the path to recovery may be slow, Jacob believes DivorceCare is the right road to take.