Separated couples turning to mediation to manage separation amicably

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Mediation charity braces itself for new year divorce spike.

Family dispute specialists who are part of the country’s largest network of family mediators are preparing for what is always their busiest period as couples across the country make it their new year resolution to end their relationships after a stressful holiday season.

Staff at National Family Mediation (NFM), which helps families to sort arrangements for children, property, finance and other important matters, say in their experience Christmas often proves the final straw for relationships that have been fragile for some time.

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According to the charity, it received a staggering 868 enquiries in January 2023, with 215 of those landing in the first week of the New Year. It also says that this year is likely to be even more stressful for many, as the cost of living continues to affect families across the UK.

Sarah Hawkins - NFM CEOSarah Hawkins - NFM CEO
Sarah Hawkins - NFM CEO

Sarah Hawkins, NFM’S CEO, said the Government’s £500 Voucher Scheme would act as a ‘lifeline’ for many, with couples turning to mediation to help settle matters amicably in a bid to keep legal costs to a minimum.

As part of the scheme, couples who decide to split up can access up to £500, which can be used to fund mediation to discuss children matters using mediation providers such as NFM.

This year the charity said it is expecting to hear from couples who have tried to co-exist living in the same house due to financial difficulties, but who are now looking to go their separate ways due to tensions flaring over the Christmas period.

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Sarah said: “Sadly, while Christmas is supposed to be a jolly time of year it can also pile added pressure on relationships already at the end of their tether.

“Year-on-year, our mediators see a spike in enquiries in December and January, once again, we anticipate more calls than ever given the economic climate and the difficulties that many people are facing.”

The first working Monday in January is now commonly referred to as 'Divorce Day' - a term used by lawyers and law firms to typically describe the time of year when they receive a surge of new enquiries from couples about divorce.

Sarah added: “Food and fuel costs have continued to stay high, and we are still seeing a lot of businesses collapsing leaving many workers unemployed or worried about their jobs.

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“Over the past year or so, we have seen an increase in people who come to us who are very worried about how they are going to pay for the basics, let alone the added expense that comes with Christmas.

“Recently, that has included couples in conflict who either simply could not afford to go their separate ways or did not feel that the cost of maintaining two households was justifiable. Pre-Christmas, those couples were resigned to the fact that they were going to have to live together until they are both in a better financial position.

“Post holidays however we expect to see a huge influx in people reconsider that approach. Whilst it may have originally seemed like a sensible approach to sharing costs and managing childcare, the reality is that living in close proximity to an ex-partner can be incredibly stressful.

“Thankfully, the government’s mediation voucher scheme will prove a real lifeline in helping them to navigate the difficulties that inevitably lie ahead. It means that everyone can access the support they need, and it could save them thousands on costly court fees.”

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NFM’s professional mediators are highly skilled third-party negotiators with experience in helping families create long-term solutions that work well for their circumstances.

Sarah added: “Rather than leaving it to a judge to decide who will live where, what happens to the money, debts and pensions, and arrangements for the children, mediation empowers families themselves to decide these things. It’s their future after all.”

Legal Aid also remains available for family mediation.

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