Huffpost UK Lifestyle uk
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Fiona Wood Headshot

Defusing Domestic Rows and Saving Cash? We've Got an App for That!

Posted: Updated:

There is no doubt that the economic catastrophes of recent years have had a raft of different and often painful consequences for both UK couples and commerce.

The recession has closed businesses and put many thousands of people out of work. Due to the rising pressures at work, tensions have also been ratcheted up at home for many.

Flaws which might have been present in relationships but could have been overcome in more affluent times have been exacerbated, forcing partners to separate.

Research by my colleagues at Pannone, other family lawyers and academics has underlined the fact that not only are money worries to blame for some relationships ending but they can also fuel bitter separations.

Whether married or not, many spouses and cohabitees are understandably keen to resume their newly single lives with as much financial security as possible. That necessity is magnified when there are children to take care of and provide for.

A sense of self-protection does not always make for pleasantries and compromise, and can lead to a spirit of confrontation as former partners try to maximise the assets that they walk away with from their life together.

In addition to the emotional cost of such situations, there can be a financial cost too. Sometimes the advice of lawyers is disregarded in order to prove a point to former partners which can increase legal bills.

Prolonging the bitterness can also impact on children, particularly if it leads to court proceedings about where the children should live or how often they should see the other parent.

The public are also affected by couples who are unable to agree matters when they separate. Their taxes are needed to fund the courts and the Child Support Agency (CSA) which deal with their disputes. How efficiently they have been run is another issue when considering the amount of public money spent.

The CSA, which began operations in 1993, is soon to disappear after much criticism. It costs half a billion pounds a year to run but the total arrears which it claims it is trying to claw back from parents who do not pay child maintenance amounts to a similar figure.

Its own data suggests that more than 5,000 cases on its books involve more than £50,000 in overdue payments.

With this as a backdrop, it is no surprise that ministers have decided to adopt a new strategy. The Department for Work and Pensions has announced measures which it believes might take the heat out of family disputes and save the taxpayer some money.

It has launched a two-year, £14 million Innovation Fund scheme to assist couples to separate amicably.

The initiative will consolidate a range of materials in a download-able application, including how to prevent parents fighting in front of their children, how to agree child maintenance payments and how to cope with your ex's new partner. It will be supported by mediation and online and telephone counselling.

In an age when almost every aspect of our lives is digitally dealt with, it is tempting to dismiss the venture. However, Family lawyers like myself are well aware of how difficult the breakdown of a relationship can be.

Although what the DWP is rolling-out might not be an instant solution, it will give some assistance. Some may respond well to the informal nature of the guidance provided.

In my view, anything that can take even a little heat out of situations which can be fraught for children and parents is to be welcomed.