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Giving divorcing people the keys to a legal process is what we don’t need

Date:21 DEC 2020
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Chief Executive, NFM

Data was released recently indicating divorce has a negative impact on mental health. Well, apart from the fact that I think we already knew this, how might it point a way forward to improve matters for separating couples?  

This data has been used by some to claim that what’s needed is more early legal support. This is nonsense, even when you put aside the additional cost it would impose on a hard-pushed economy.  

Does triggering an intense and litigious divorce battle improve mental health? The opposite is true, as anyone in family law will tell you, if they’re being honest.  

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Simply, if you offer divorcing or separating people legal support upfront, they immediately believe they're in a legal process. And that legal avenues are the way to find solutions to their conflict.  

By framing relationship breakdown as a legal dispute, you naturally encourage escalation to legal proceedings. And yet, as most people in family law circles - along with government Ministers and numerous reports such as the recent one from the Family Solutions Group - agree, a priority must be keeping people out of legal court battles wherever possible, instead diverting them to dispute resolution services.  

Everyone knows that the end of a relationship is almost never the result of legal issues, but emotional ones.  

Emotional issues surrounding affairs, lifestyles, parenting, sharing the domestic workload, money, the impact of debt, and so on.  

Yes, our system means that a court has an important part to play in approving settlements agreed by two separating people. Policy-makers agree that we need to increase the reaching of these settlements through non-confrontational means, including family mediation. That is one reason why legal aid has remained available for mediation, post-LASPO.  

Isn’t it obvious to point out that signposting two people to a legal process from Day One will accelerate pressure on family courts, increase animosity between the pair, and impose huge delays on the resolution of the emotional issues that have driven the couple apart.  

Yes, divorce can impact badly on mental health. Giving two separating people the keys to what too easily becomes a legally fuelled juggernaut is hardly going to improve things.  

Divorce is a life event primarily driven by emotions. So it’s much more beneficial to the people involved to be given access to information and services that support them through the early stages. This can prevent them heading down an acrimonious litigation route, and help them function through the changes they need to make – regaining a feeling they’re in control of their lives. Only then are they in a position to deal with the legalities of their divorce.