Personal Law
December 18, 2019

Talking and teamwork to tackle Christmas break-ups

Divorce rates have fallen to their lowest level since the 1970s but breakdowns continue to spike after the festive season and professionals are encouraging couples with rocky relationships to focus on talking to each other in the run up to Christmas.

Many attribute the stress and financial burden of trying to create the perfect Christmas as the reason why many married couples head for divorce in January, with family lawyers and support organisations receiving more enquiries in the New Year than at any other time.

And while the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that overall rates of divorce for England and Wales have reduced, experts say this does not directly translate into more couples experiencing a ‘happy ever after’.

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 are also staying married for longer before they divorce in 2018 the average length of marriage before divorce was 12.5 years whereas in 1995 it was 9.6 years. Analysts suggest that these figures could be due in the main to marriages taking place later in life. The figures also reflect that there are far fewer marriages taking place overall, at nearly half the number of 1974.

Administrative delays at Ministry of Justice Divorce Centres have driven last year’s figures down as well, with the subsequent catch up on processing of divorce petitions 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 46.1% of divorces granted in 2018 were on this ground.

At present, the only grounds for divorce are that the marriage has broken down irretrievably, through adultery, unreasonable behaviour, the rarely-used ground of 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 (the five 'grounds')

Said family law expert, Simon Brown, of our Tunbridge Wells branch. “Earlier this year the Government announced proposals to amend the law by sweeping away the five 'grounds' and, providing that a divorcing couple show the marriage has irretrievably broken down, with a prescribed statement to that effect, and that there be sufficient time in the process to allow the couple to reflect before the decree absolute is granted . The proposed legislation was lost with the calling of the General Election. In the meantime, we need to support couples in navigating the current process and help them avoid a recriminatory approach, which is even more important when children are involved.”

This echoes guidance 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.

Simon added: “Talking things through is always best, and you don’t have to do it all on your own, as someone can sit in to help focus those conversations on positive negotiation, whether it’s just between the two of you, or as a family with your children.

Approaching separation on the basis of discussion and mediation may ease things and make this very difficult phase of life just a little less tough. When a marriage is failing, positive communication between parents is perhaps the best Christmas present the children can be given.

It will always be helpful of course, when going forward after a decision to divorce, to obtain expert legal advice on arrangements for the children and financial issues."


To discuss any family legal matter or issue, you can contact Simon Brown or the Family team on 01892 526344.

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances

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