With January 8 traditionally dubbed Divorce Day, due to the spike in couples seeking a separation after the Christmas season, an expert solicitor is offering her advice.
Sophie Hughes, head of the family team at Watkins & Gunn Solicitors, discusses why more couples seek a divorce in January and the most common issues couples face.
Why is it true that January is a popular month for divorces, and can you give us an idea of how the figure rises during that month?
In January, we see the number of divorce enquiries double. Most clients that I deal with will have been experiencing problems well before Christmas but will stay together during this time for the sake of their children and families. Over the Christmas period, families are forced to spend more time together in the confinement of their homes and cracks in a relationship are exacerbated. Alcohol and over-indulgence fuel arguments and inappropriate actions and feelings are pushed to breaking point. The new year brings with it the opportunity for a ‘fresh start’ and many people will look for ways to improve their lives. While some people do this by joining a gym, other people do it by divorcing their significant other.
What advice would you give to a couple contemplating divorce in January?
Don’t rush things and take time to consider if this is really what you want. If it is a route that you want to take make sure you get the best possible advice. Divorce is a life-changing event that needs to be carefully managed; not only for the individual, but also for any children. Despite emotions running high, try to take a constructive approach to divorce proceedings as unnecessary acrimony can increase tension at an already difficult time, as well as increasing legal costs, making less money available for financial settlements. Consider a Collaborative approach using specially trained lawyers to find a fair and honest solution to minimise the pain of family breakdowns and avoid the courts.
Can you agree with the ONS statistics from 2011 that found the divorce rate among 25-29 year-olds was twice the average across all age groups – does that ring true with your experience?
From our experience there are two age groups where divorce is on the rise. Younger couples where marriage is no longer considered for life and more mature couples whose children have flown the nest and who have discovered that they no longer have anything in common. The affairs of clients in the latter age group are more complex due to amongst other things pensions, so getting expert advice is crucial.
What sort of issues will be facing younger couples marrying these days?
Young couples can face a number of issues early on in their marriage – job uncertainty, money worries, wanting or not wanting a family – all of these issues can put a strain on a relationship. We are finding that more and more young couples are taking out pre-nuptial agreements before they get married to cover them if the worst happens.
What kind of factors lead to divorce in a person’s 20s?
Most couples who plunge into wedlock early often do so for the wrong reason. They’re simply too excited about their relationship, about being married and getting the big white dress and don’t really think about the long term circumstances. Some have expectations or have idealised how the marriage is going to be and when it doesn’t match up to that divorce is seen as an easy option.
This is coupled with the fact that society no longer places importance on the concept of life-long marriage. It is no longer a stigma to get divorced. We live in an age in which greater choice and personal ambition are seen as increasingly important.
And, younger couples aren't willing to settle if something isn't working out. If they don't have kids, they are looking at the situation and thinking, ‘This hasn't worked, but I have enough time to find someone else and maybe have a family with someone else.'
Do you agree that celebrities are helping to promote ‘starter marriages’ amongst young people, that often end in divorce soon after?
Absolutely, you only have to flick through one of the tabloid newpapers or glossy magazines to read about another celebrity couple’s whirlwind marriage that has quickly ended in divorce. The concept of the ‘starter marriage’ – and the idea that if you are going to get divorced, do it before you have kids – has become more widely accepted due to the number of celebrity reportings.
Do you see more people marrying young, and hence more divorces, or are we seeing a shift?
At our firm we’re seeing more people marrying slightly later in their 30s once they have established themselves personally and in their careers. We’re also seeing more couples having children before they get married which is a shift from twenty years ago. And it’s not all doom and gloom, young love does last. I know plenty of couples that got married young and are still happily married 30 years later.
Sophie Hughes is head of the family team at Watkins & Gunn Solicitors and the Chair of the South Wales Region of Resolution, an association of specialist family lawyers dedicated to resolving family disputes in a constructive way. Sophie is one of a select group of lawyers in Wales trained in Collaborative Law and has extensive experience in high value divorces, often involving an international element.