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Divorce and the recession

At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, worries about money and finances are one of the major causes of stress and anxiety in the modern world. It is perfectly normal to feel anxious or down when times are hard. Money problems can affect your self-esteem and it is also common for those concerns to spill over into our close personal relationships.

This is something borne out by a recent report from Relate. The study, called “Relationships, Recession and Recovery” shows that couples worst affected by the recession are eight times as likely to suffer relationship breakdown.

For the study, Relate examined data from 40,000 households across the UK concerning how people were affected by the economic downturn between 2009 and 2012. The findings showed that that people who suffered worst from the recession were considerably more likely to have experienced deterioration in the quality of their relationships. Relate calls this the “social recession” which they say is a direct result of the economic recession the country has experienced.

In the study people were grouped according to their economic experience during those years.

  • People who had not experienced any financial impact from the recession were largely unaffected in terms of their relationships.
  • People who were just about getting by financially, working unpaid overtime, yet who were optimistic about things changing were almost twice as likely to have experienced relationship breakdown as those unaffected by the recession.
  • Further down the scale, people who still had a job but endured financial distress with debt arrears, low job satisfaction and low optimism were three times as likely as the unaffected group to have broken up with their spouse or partner.
  • People who had lost their jobs, were suffering from financial problems and were not optimistic about their situations changing were around four times as likely to have separated.
  • Finally, people who were out of the labour market, suffering from “high financial distress” and were pessimistic about things changing were on average eight times as likely as the unaffected group to have experienced relationship breakdown (ten times for women; six times for men).

Relate are calling for action to better fund relationship support, as they argue that good-quality relationships are fundamental to our health and wellbeing, our ability to engage and progress in education and work, and they are essential to building resilience and independence. All of these things feed back into national economic recovery.

It is well understood that financial difficulties, unemployment and money worries can reduce relationship quality by increasing conflict, decreasing mental wellbeing, and even impacting on physical health. An interesting point made by the authors of the study is that they feel that the social recession will outlast the economic one, as more unhappy relationships drag on until the financial situation improves enough to allow people to go their separate ways. Certainly, increasingly those contemplating divorce are concerned to keep legal costs to a minimum so as to ensure the maximum funds remain for the family’s use. Here are a few ways of working with a solicitor while keeping your costs down:

First, try to keep the emotion out of the legal process. This is easier said than done, of course. However, the courts are not interested in apportioning blame for relationship breakdown, so pouring hurt and recriminations into the legal process will only inflame the dispute and run up costs – it’s the future you need to focus on now, not the past.

Secondly, ensure you have enough emotional support to help you through the process. Solicitors are much more expensive than counsellors and using them as a shoulder to cry on is not a good use of your funds. Your lawyer or your GP will be able to refer you to a good counsellor, and in many cases this can make a real difference to how you handle the challenges of divorce.

Third, trust your solicitor to progress your case. Costs mount up very rapidly for anxious clients. A good family lawyer will be a busy family lawyer, and may not be able to get to your email or letter immediately, but will respond when they are able to give it full attention. If you have concerns about whether your solicitor has received a communication from you, have a word with their secretary – it will keep a lid on costs.

Fourth, you can also keep costs down through being organised with your financial information, and working with your solicitor to complete disclosure in a structured way rather than piecemeal. A box full of paper takes a long time to sort out, and this ends up being more costly than disclosure presented to us in an organised way.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, consider alternatives to litigation at every stage. We have written extensively about mediation, collaborative law and negotiation as better, and cheaper, options for many people. It’s not always possible to avoid court, but even if you can narrow down the issues of dispute in another forum it is likely to save you money in the long run. On the same point, don’t let the fight get in the way of a sensible, commercial settlement – your solicitor will help you decide when one of these might be proposed, or accepted.

If you would like to talk to us about finance, costs or any other aspect of family law, please give us a ring on 01223 443333 to make an appointment to see Gail, Sue, Simon or Adam.

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