Talking and teamwork helps tackle Christmas break-ups

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Divorce rates may have fallen to their lowest level since the 1970s but the trend of relationship breakdowns spiking immediately after the festive season continues. For couples contemplating separation or divorce, it’s important to focus on talking to each other in the run up to Christmas.

The emotional stress and financial burden of trying to create the perfect Christmas is often the trigger for taking action in January, family lawyers and support organisations reporting that they receive more enquiries in the New Year than at any other time.

There were 90,871 divorces of opposite-sex couples in 2018, a decrease of 10.6% compared with 2017 and the lowest number since 1971. Couples now stay married longer before they divorce – 12.4 years compared to 9.6 years in 1996. Analysts suggest this is mainly due to marriages taking place later in life, often following a period of living together. Figures also reflect that far fewer marriages are taking place overall, almost halving since 1974.

Administrative delays at Ministry of Justice divorce centres have driven last year’s figures down too. The subsequent catch-up on processing of divorce petitions is expected to translate into a higher number of completed divorces in 2019.

Unreasonable behaviour remains the most common reason for divorce. In opposite-sex couples, 51.9% of wives and 36.8% of husbands petitioned on this ground.

At present, grounds for divorce are the irretrievably breakdown of a marriage due to adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, two years of separation where both parties agree to divorce, or five years’ separation in which case the consent of the other party is not required.

A significant campaign to allow no-fault divorce, without the need for a long separation, is yet to be enshrined in legislation. Until then, couples must continue to navigate the process and avoid a recriminatory approach. This is even more important when children are involved and it’s important to seek professional support when needed.

Guidance is available from support organisations such as the NSPCC, who encourage parents to talk to their children and prepare the ground for separation and divorce by avoiding accusations and blaming or asking children to take sides. Positive negotiation can prove beneficial, whether it’s directly between the couple or with any children involved.

Getting expert input before agreeing to asset sharing or child arrangements is advisable to ensure that it’s fair for both sides.

Approaching separation through collaboration and mediation may help ease a difficult situation and allow those involved to move forward.