Healing Broken Bonds : * Divorce Anonymous helps people cope with the heartbreak and despair of a failed marriage.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES: Barbara Bronson Gray is a regular contributor to Valley Life

Our society supports people more in death than in life, at least when it comes to divorce, says Christine Archambault, founder of Divorce Anonymous.

"Nobody brings you a casserole. Family members take sides; there's no closing ritual--like a funeral--and sometimes very little assistance," says Archambault, who is also co-author of Divorce Recovery (Bantam, $4.50).

But there are a range of groups committed to helping people navigate the emotional and legal hurdles that often accompany divorce.

Divorce Anonymous was founded in 1987 to help people handle the emotional side effects of cutting the cord. "When you've been in a marriage for any length of time, you're used to having a sounding board," she says. "That's what we are."

Anyone going through divorce needs emotional support, information on such issues as financial planning and mediation, and closure--the process of understanding what went wrong in the relationship, Archambault says. Using a modified 12-step format, created by Alcoholics Anonymous, Santa Monica-based Divorce Anonymous encourages participants to share their feelings and coach each other through the process.

Mort Smiley, 57, of Van Nuys has been attending Divorce Anonymous meetings since his 16-year marriage ended about three years ago. His wife left him, he says, and while the divorce was legally simple, the emotional scars have been tough to salve.

Yet he has found support and friendship in the group. "I found out that I'm not the only one going through the process. It never occurred to me that anyone else went through this," he says.

For Smiley, the toughest part has been learning to cope with coming home at night and being alone. But he says that just talking to others in the same boat who share their experiences, their strength and their hope has helped him.

Nancy Warner Gates has been divorced for 12 years. As a single parent, she finds great support and camaraderie from Parents Without Partners Inc. Established 75 years ago by two New Yorkers who ran a newspaper ad to meet other single parents, the organization has more than 100,000 members nationwide.

Gates, 40, an assistant to a vice president at Warner Bros., is membership director of the Verdugo chapter in Glendale. She has two teen-age boys. PWP's family activities--movie nights, softball games, outings--are a great way to meet others with similar interests and problems, she says. The group also offers a "listening ear" phone line and holds regular educational and discussion programs.

Other programs offer more information than group support. The Los Angeles-based Joint Custody Assn., a 3,000-member organization that distributes information about divorce practices and joint custody, provides answers by phone and information packets on request.

James A. Cook, the group's president, says he gets about 10 to 15 phone calls a day, mostly from people who are facing divorce or researching proposed legislation. "It's high anxiety out there," he says.

WHERE AND WHEN

What: Divorce Anonymous, 2600 Colorado Ave., Suite 270, Santa Monica 90404.

When: Meets weekly in Santa Monica; car pools available from the San Fernando Valley.

Price: Free, but donation requested for membership.

Call: (310) 998-6538.

What: American Assn. for Marriage and Family Therapy, 10th floor, 1100 17th St., N.W., Washington 20036.

Services: Publishes a free guide to choosing a therapist and offers therapy referrals for single parents and step-families.

Call: (800) 374-2638.

What: Parents Without Partners Inc., 8807 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, Md. 20910.

Services: Support group of 650 chapters (including Reseda and Verdugo Hills) for single men and women with children.

Call: (800) 637-7974.

What: Joint Custody Assn., 10606 Wilkins Ave., Los Angeles 90024.

Services: Provides kits on joint custody; donation requested.

Call: (310) 475-5352.

What: National Organization for Women Legal Defense and Education Fund, 99 Hudson St., New York 10013.

Services: Provides three legal resource kits for $5 each--divorce and separation, child support and child custody. Request in writing, enclosing payment.

Call: (212) 925-6635.

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