January is known amongst the legal profession as the home of ‘Divorce Day’, which always falls on the first working Monday of the New Year. It’s a cringe-worthy title, but speaks to the trend of couples considering separation following family tension and financial stresses that can rear their head over the festive season.
The Office for National Statistics reported that there were 106,959 divorces of opposite-sex couples and 112 divorces of same-sex couples in 2016 – a 5.8 per cent rise from last year, but not near the peak divorce rates seen in 2003 and 2004. The statistics also reveal that around 42 per cent of marriages end in divorce.
Over the pond in the US, research from sociologists at the University of Washington found a connection between post-holiday periods and spikes in couples filing for divorce. Described as an “optimism cycle”, holidays give couples a false sense of reality and a hope to start anew. After the excitement of a vacation period wears off, the same relationship issues exist. That pattern of behaviour creates a trend in couples wanting to call it quits in March and August.
The reasons that couples want to divorce is varied. No-fault divorce is not recognised in England and Wales, meaning that couples wanting to split must be able to prove that the relationship has broken down beyond repair. In order to do that, they must be able to show that certain behaviour – or lack of behaviour – caused the failed relationship. The acceptable grounds for divorce under The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 are adultery, unreasonable behaviour (such as violence, abuse or drunkenness), desertion, or having lived apart for more than two years if the divorce is uncontested.
Regardless of whether or not the divorce is mutual, going through a relationship breakdown is difficult. It is not something that anyone plans for and it can be a highly emotional process, particularly for couples who have children together. To help people going through what can be an unsettling time, here are three tips to help make the transition easier for your children.
1. Look at the situation through your child’s eyes
It is likely that your child has only ever experienced life with both parents. Having to adjust to a different family unit and the thought of living separately to one of their parents can be overwhelming and troubling for them. Talk to them about what is happening and leave blame out of the equation. If possible, talk with your ex first about what you’d like to say and how you’re going to broach the topic. It is always best if you and your ex can have the conversation with your child together; this shows you’re both still their parents and will continue to be involved in their lives, which can be a major concern for children. If you’re not sure where to start the conversation, have a look at tips developed by the national organisation of family lawyers, Resolution, as a starting point. A number a QualitySolicitors firms are members of Resolution and use these resources in addition to their support and guidance for clients.
2. Make a plan for child arrangements
It is always best for everyone involved if both parents can agree on contact and living arrangements for their children. This might include details on whether the child will live with one parent permanently or will share time between both parents’ places, as well as what visitation schedules will work and how your child can keep in more regular contact in between visits. Of course, any decisions concerning your child should always been made with their best interest at heart – not what is best for you.
If you can agree
If you can agree on child arrangements, that obviously doesn’t put a further strain on the relationship and makes things smoother for everyone. Once agreed, the best thing to do is to put what you’ve spoken about in writing together as a joint parenting plan. This can serve as a reminder of what was mutually agreed should you need to refer back to it, and help both parents feel at ease that what has been decided is fair. Should either of your circumstances change, it is easier to come back to a written document to review than to have painful discussions all over again.
Bear in mind, though, that you will need to take further steps to ensure any agreement is legally binding. To do this, you can instruct a solicitor to draft what is known as a consent order – a formalisation of your agreement. This order will need to be signed by both parents and filed in court for a fee of £215 along with a C100 court form. The court will approve the order if it is believed it serves the welfare interests of the child.
If you can’t agree
If you can’t agree on child arrangements, you may need to seek legal advice. A family law solicitor will work with both parents through mediation processes if appropriate (for example, those who have suffered domestic violence will not be forced to address their abusers). If differences cannot be resolved, you may need to apply for a court order. A solicitor will be able to support you through this process and advise on the types of court orders that may be needed for your situation.
3. Keep it civil and keep in contact
Regardless of the reason for your separation, you want to be able to show your child how to maintain respectful relationships – and that starts by setting a good example yourself. Many parents understandably want to cast blame on one another and can try to provoke a reaction, but taking the high road will have benefits for your child’s and your own wellbeing.
There may be times when your child is going through major changes, challenges or milestones. As a parent, you want to be actively involved in your child’s life; don’t forget that your ex is still your child’s parent and will have those wishes too. Where possible, keep each other updated about what has happened when your child has been in your care and share major moments. Being inclusive in this way will also make any harder conversations about changes in circumstances, for example, easier to have.
To find a family law solicitor in your local area, use our postcode search tool at https://www.qualitysolicitors.com/find-solicitor.