Relate shines a spotlight on separation

Children|Divorce|Family|Separation|January 8th 2014

What does the end of modern relationship amount to, here in the second decade of the 21st Century? A new survey from relationship charity Relate – the one-time Marriage Guidance Council – throws some light onto the current state of play.

The headline finding –as reported in the Telegraph – is that a comfortable majority (58 per cent) of people they surveyed did not believe it is possible to have a “good separation” – in other words, to part on positive, stress-free terms.

Anyone who has ever lived through the end of a relationship will recognise the turmoil and heartache which lies behind this observation. They say life’s three great stressors are bereavement, moving house and divorce: all three some of the greatest upheavals most of us will ever experience. It is no wonder so many people struggle to see the end of relationships as a positive experience, regardless of the circumstances or who left who.

How many clients have I seen crying bitter  tears on the other side of the meeting room table, during all my years in family law? I long ago lost count.

The survey, conducted by YouGov, also touches upon another reality of divorce – it’s never a simple decision to pack a suitcase and walk out of the door. For more than 40 per cent of the respondents, the entire process, from suitcase to decree absolute, took more than a year, and for an unfortunate ten per cent, the wrangling lasted five years or more.

To anyone caught up in, or already facing a protracted and rancorous divorce, I would say: seek sensible, well-informed legal advice. But a solicitor can say all the right things, provide the most exquisitely wise and practical legal advice, and it will not make a scrap of difference if the client won’t listen. Some people just cannot help themselves, and get so caught up in the rancour of divorce they lose all sense of perspective and what is best of their children – cue broken contact orders, unpaid child support and wild accusations. For such clients wrangling in court becomes a way of scoring points off the partner they once loved but have since grown to hate.

It is hard to protect children from all the turmoil, even for the more well-intentioned parents out there. More than half the survey respondents (52 per cent) said they thought their separation had effected their children for the worse.

To quote Relate Chief Executive Ruth Sutherland:

“Heightened emotions can cause arguments and ill-feeling in a home before, during and after separation and kids often pick up more than we realise. This process can have knock-on effects for some children and young people, including problems at school, alcohol misuse and mental health and wellbeing issues.”

Her solution sounds simple but it is one that requires real effort in practice for all but the luckiest amongst us:

“…having strong relationships that go the distance in good times and bad and knowing how to manage the separation process can improve outcomes for everyone.”

For some such strong relationships and carefully managed separations may come easy, but life is rarely so neat and tidy for most. I am a great believer in counselling. If counselling – or at least considering it – was a routine part of the separation process, many of those in turmoil might be able to cope better with the situation and resolve matters more sensibly. So all credit to Relate for highlighting issues which family lawyers out on the coal face have to deal with daily.

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