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The long school holidays are drawing to a close and everywhere seems to be awash with essential “back to school” items. The summer holidays, and the financial, emotional and time demands of balancing childcare with employment and trips away, can be a time of great stress on families and relationships. Sadly, our realities don’t always live up to the idealised pictures painted in the brochures and magazines of sun-drenched smiling kids and happy couples enjoying each other’s company.

A few years ago some research came out (admittedly commissioned by a law firm) that claimed almost 20% of couples are contemplating separation from their partner or spouse by the end of the summer holidays. Whether or not those figures are accurate, it is certainly true that we do see a lot more enquiries around this time of year, probably more so than the annually feted “divorce day” which happens sometime in the first week of January according to the press. If you’re struggling, you’re not the only one.

With the new school term comes, for some, a return to routine. This can sometimes create space to think about what to do next, get some perspective and consider options.

If there has been violence, or you have been subject to threats, urgent legal advice to keep yourself and your children safe is important. However in the majority of cases where fear of abuse is thankfully not an issue, before rushing headlong into issuing divorce petitions and court proceedings we really do recommend talking to a counsellor, either by yourself or with your partner (to find one local to you, see the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy’s site). More people do this than you’d think; for those who don’t, it sometimes comes to the fore as a regret later. A counsellor can help you to talk through the difficulties in the relationship, explore whether and how they can be worked through, and consider whether you might still have a future together. Unhappy couples who go to counsellors are often surprised that it’s not dramatic change that can help to make a relationship work again, but little adjustments and compromises. The counselling process may help you put things into perspective, and whatever your eventual decision about the future, you will be making that decision having had the benefit of really thinking it through in emotional terms.

It’s also helpful to have an idea what might happen financially if you decide to separate. Legal advice, tailored to your personal and family circumstances, can be a real eye-opener for many people, and something that will guide them in their decision-making. It can be really useful to have a preliminary meeting with a solicitor to discuss your financial situation before you make up your mind what to do next. A solicitor will be able to give you an idea (although not a cast iron guarantee) as to how your family’s income, property, capital assets, pensions, family businesses, investments, and personal possessions might be divided up on separation.

Seeing a solicitor does not put you on a conveyor belt towards court. At CFLP we see many people for one-off meetings. A lawyer will also be able to talk you through the available dispute resolution options if you do decide to separate and need help to work out your arrangements, and discuss the strengths and weaknesses and likely costs of mediation, collaborative law, negotiation and litigation with you. The other thing to understand is that not everyone does need to use these processes: they aren’t obligatory, and lots of couples manage to come to agreements themselves without needing a formal dispute resolution process at all.

Once informed with a picture of the likely emotional and financial landscapes post-separation, and the route maps of how to get there, you will be able to make a more informed and rational decision about your future.

To take the first consideration last for the purposes of this blog, it is obviously really important to focus on the children in all this. As parents, you know your children best and love them the most: how are they likely to react, and how could you manage the process of parental separation for them, if it is to occur, to minimise distress? Are there timing issues to consider (upcoming exams etc) that might affect your own timetable? There is a lot of help available to parents to assist with guiding children through the difficult period of separation and its aftermath, and also directly for children themselves: take a look at our support page as a place to start. Kids might well benefit from seeing someone independent who can help them with their feelings, which will be complicated and raw whatever their age. Collaborative law and mediation, or simply working things out with your partner calmly and with dignity, can help to keep the children’s needs and priorities at the top of your own agenda and give them a chance to be heard in the process, where this is appropriate.

So, if you have reached the end of the holidays and the end of your tether at the same time, there are many places you can look for help when working out what to do next.

If you would like Gail, Simon, Sue, Adam or Tricia to advise you, we are happy to offer guidance at any stage of your decision-making process. We are on 01223 443333.