Statistics show that more children than ever celebrated Christmas with only one of their parents, following a relationship break-up.
According to the research published by the Marriage Foundation, one in three children under the age of 15 woke up with just one parent on Christmas morning. Alongside, are many more families where couples will have ‘held it together’ for one last family Christmas, but who will now be heading for divorce.
The first working day in January is commonly known as ‘Divorce Day’, as lawyers receive more enquiries than at any other time of the year, and the latest EU data shows that the UK has the highest rate of family breakdown in Western Europe. But now, all couples are required to follow mediation before being allowed to take financial arguments to court. As a result, family lawyers are saying the emphasis for 2015 will be on talking solutions.
At present, the only grounds for divorce are that the marriage has broken down irretrievably, with most being ‘fault-based’ – adultery, unreasonable behaviour and the rarely-used fact of desertion. The only way to avoid raising issues of fault is by a period of separation of at least two years before issuing the divorce petition. But there are moves to consider changing the law to allow for ‘no fault’ divorce without long separation, with those advocating the change arguing this could reduce the heartache of divorce, allowing greater dignity and lessening animosity.
For the time being, most couples find themselves going through a challenging ‘finger-pointing’ process if they want to achieve the outcome of a swift break-up. However, just because there is not a speedy, no-fault divorce option, it does not mean it has to be that tough. Collaboration, mediation and putting children’s interests first can make a much less painful process. On the other hand, collaboration may not be suitable where there is a threat of bullying or violence, but for most couples it is a way to get things sorted out more quickly and, hopefully, more easily.
Figures suggest that mediation is faster and cheaper than going to court – Government figures say the average time for a mediated case is 110 days compared to 435 days for non-mediated cases.
Mediation following a separation usually involves sorting out arrangements for the couple’s children and separating finances from the actual divorce proceedings. The resulting agreement is likely to be presented to the Courts for a formal consent order to be made.
For those starting out, it may be sensible to think about protecting assets through a pre or post nuptial agreement – they are not binding in the UK, but they are being given increasing weight and the open discussion that is necessary to make one is a really useful process to go through. As Winston Churchill said, to jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.