Antonia Love - partner and head of family at Farleys Solicitors – discusses ‘Divorce Month’

Research released by relationship support charity OnePlusOne reports that a quarter of parents have secretly considered separating from or divorcing their partner. What does this figure indicate about the choices made by couples contemplating leaving their partner, or any social stigma attached to contacting professional support services?

Once you move past the media’s fixation of January being ‘Divorce Month’, there is a real and pressing issue that lurks beneath the surface of tabloid headlines. The question is where couples should turn when faced with the breakdown of a relationship that inevitably threatens to upset the stability of their family life. Of those asked only 4% would consider seeking help through professional support channels such as a therapist or a counsellor, and only 3% would contact a support service.

Divorce and separation can, understandably, cause conflict between couples but this conflict is something that must be overcome for the benefit of all involved, especially for any children. It can also take an extreme toll on the emotions of both parties with the mounting stress of dealing with finances and child arrangements causing additional pressure. However, it is essential that parents refrain from letting these pressures cloud judgement, and endeavour to resolve issues in a civil manner.

A survey conducted by Resolution, released as part of Family Dispute Resolution Week, revealed that those parents who suffered a relationship breakdown were likely to end up in debt, with 37% being forced to take out a loan to ease the financial strain. In the wake of the festive period, this statistic should not be taken lightly. A study conducted by Aviva highlighted the growing problem of household debt; it showed that it has more than doubled in the past six months increasing, on average, from £7,840 to £16,300. In light of this, it has never been more important for parents to be aware of the various cost effective methods in resolving disputes that are available.

Further research collated by OnePlusOne (on a group of 14-18 year olds with divorced parents) found that one in three felt a parent had tried turning them against the other during their dispute. Evidently, this shocking statistic highlights how some parents are not only failing to shield their children from parental disputes but are attempting to actively involve them in the conflict. The welfare of the child should always be at the forefront of decisions that are made and should provide the foundation upon which an agreement is made between parents. Manipulating or deliberately trying to undermine a relationship between a parent and child can be psychologically damaging to a child’s development.

To try and avoid being faced with these issues, the solution lies in the manner in which parents choose to communicate. The first step to overcoming a problem is to acknowledge the problem exists and then embracing the assistance that is available from various support networks which can provide appropriate information and guidance. Unfortunately, attending relationship counselling or seeking other support can bring with it a perceived stigma of having ‘failed’.

It is easy to speculate why it is partners choose not to confide in each other when considering a separation or divorce. However, couples should not feel stigmatised by accepting their relationship is in difficulty and should be more open about discussing those difficulties and accessing help. Whilst divorce or separation is a devastating event, so can be the alternative of continuing in an unhappy relationship with problems festering away.

If a reconciliation of problems cannot be achieved then couples need to make an informed decision as to the best way forward considering all avenues of alternative dispute resolution before turning to the courts. Not only can alternatives to court, such as mediation, collaborative law or arbitration, significantly reduce costs, but they can also help parents maintain a better separated relationship, crucial in protecting and developing the long-term emotional wellbeing of a child.