Transform the system for separating couples to reduce damaging conflict
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The process for couples separating in the UK is broken. Inherently separation is difficult and the current legal and social system exacerbates this pain, fuels the fire of parental conflict and causes multiple social and economic shocks across every age group.
The massive human cost and the huge state burden can be alleviated if we create a better process and a change attitudes and expectations at the earliest stage of relationship breakdown.
Restored Lives offers the UK’s leading course supporting people through separation and divorce. We constantly hear desperate stories from hundreds of separating couples and their families which highlight the additional burden the system adds to their experience of separation.
One such parent said “I have 2 children. My experience was that the legal process encouraged what could have been a straightforward separation to become a long and confrontational dispute over a period of 2 years with lasting effects on our family relationships and our ability to co-parent well.”
Increased parental conflict harms children, and the impact of this can last a lifetime. One person said this “I am a divorced child, of divided, uncertain background. Within this division I - supposed fruit of their love - no longer exists. It happened nearly forty years ago, yet to me nothing is sadder than my parents' divorce.”
The children’s charity, Fegans highlights just one impact of this broken system, that family relationship breakdown is the single biggest reason for children being referred to its counselling services.
Visit Restoredlives.org to read more comments from those suffering as a result of the current system. With 2.2 million adults and around 2.8 million children in the UK impacted by divorce over the last 10 years these stories are reflected across every community in the country.
Lawyers know that change is needed
The family justice system acknowledges that the system is broken and is calling for reform. The Private Law Working Group wrote in its report in March 2020: “The system is recognised as broken and in need of radical reform” This was reconfirmed by the Family Solutions Group in its recent report ‘Reframing Support for Families following Parental Separation’ which stated “the Family Justice System is in crisis. This is no exaggeration.”
The Government knows the massive cost
Family breakdown affects every government department. It is estimated by the Relationships Foundation to cost the government over £50bn each year, which is more than the whole UK defence budget. The financial and emotional cost to individuals and families is even greater. Even with this massive cost to the nation, there is no overarching policy or provision for children or adults and no single government department coordinating responsibility for those who separate.
Many work tirelessly to ensure mitigate the damage that the process of separation and divorce inflicts on them, their children, friends and families are mitigated. They should be supported by a system that seeks to reduce harm.
1. The current legal process is inherently confrontational, pitting couples against each other. A separating couple, who were previously working together to end their relationship amicably, are positioned against each other, often with lawyers coming between them to act solely in their client’s best interest, which inevitably makes communication between the couple worse and fuels conflict.
- We need a process that does not distance people but encourages couple communication and creates a positive structure for resolving issues successfully.
2. Too many parents fight over their ‘rights’, rather than cooperate over shared parental ‘responsibilities’ and have unrealistic expectations of how coparenting will work. Legal battles create parental conflict that is directly harmful to children who are rarely given a voice within the process. We need to act quickly so that we do not have another generation who have to deal with the harm this process has inflicted upon them.
- We need a clear way to resolve all children’s issues outside the court system. A framework for the resolution of children issues should also be created at the earliest stage to clarify what each parent can expect in terms of their parental responsibilities and how often they will see their children.
3. The end of a serious relationship is not solely a legal matter and is one of the most stressful events in life affecting every aspect such as housing, support, relatives, friendships, parenting, work abilities, personal wellbeing and confidence. It is not surprising that adults find conflict resolution at this time difficult but, even though 2.2 million adults have been impacted over the last 10 years, there is no coordinated support network to help people through this difficult time.
- A multi-disciplinary response that includes addressing the emotional wellbeing of adults and parents should be put at the heart of this process incorporating therapists, parenting specialists, mediators and legal services to support people to resolve issues and enhance future relationships.
4. An uncontested divorce costs over £5,000 in legal fees - this cost is excessive for the average person in the UK especially when two households are being set up. The current legal aid system is in disarray and if any matters are contested and start a court process, the costs substantially escalate to well over £30,000 for a couple. This expensive process inhibits most of the public from properly accessing the current resolution system which results in unfair outcomes.
- We need a cost-effective process for resolving the legal elements for divorce and children’s issues which is easily accessible to all at every stage.
5. Millions of people have been through the UK divorce system however historical precedent in terms of a financial settlement or a sensible co-parenting arrangement have been hidden from the public. This leads to huge conflict as unreasonable expectations exist which take far longer to resolve.
- We need to create a public framework for financial settlements and co-parenting agreements that set out reasonable expectations for what fair settlements and arrangements will contain.
6. Family breakdown is estimated by the Relationships Foundation to cost the government over £50bn per year (more than the UK defence budget) and affects every government department. Yet there is no coordinated approach or overarching policy or provision for children or adults in this situation. There is no government department responsible for this issue and no coordination of the analysis, data or best solutions available. This policy vacuum must be filled now.
- A first step must be to establish a Family Lead at the heart of the government who will provide an urgency and coordination for the resolution of these problems.
Conclusion and goals
If nothing is done millions of adults and children will be affected over the coming years causing further fundamental impacts on generations to come.
Our experience of helping thousands of people through relationship breakdown is that when all these issues are tackled in a holistic and personal manner then conflict is minimised and even more importantly, there is renewed hope for the future lives of the adults and children concerned.
Therefore, our goal is to create a universal expectation of a good process for separating couples and families. To create a standard which is supported by the legal process and enhanced by multi-disciplinary support that enables the pain and conflict caused by separation to be minimised, ongoing relationships protected and an enhanced ability to have good, ongoing successful relationships in the future.
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