There's no way to broach the subject of divorce at this time of year without feeling it somehow goes against the spirit of the season, but for a large number of families it's something which has to be faced very quickly after the last mulled wine has been drunk.
The period immediately post-Christmas is well-known to be one of the most common times of the year for separations. In my experience there tends to be two reasons for this. Firstly, the stress and pressure of Christmas - for which family politics has a lot to answer - can be the straw which breaks the camel's back in a marriage already showing signs of strain.
Secondly, few people want to separate immediately before the festive period, so many couples tough it out until the festive period is over, rather than surprising the rest of the family during The Snowman.
When people do decide to tackle the subject, it's very noticeable. A review of Google search trends between December and January paints a fairly stark picture, with a whole range of related terms taking a sharp upward spike. For example, between December 2012 and January 2013, the following was the UK search volume growth for these terms:
• 'Divorce lawyers', from 880 to 1300;
• 'Divorce advice', from 5400 to 9900;
• 'Quickie divorce', from 1600 to 2900;
• 'Separation agreement', from 1000 to 1900;
• 'Family mediation', from 1300 to 2400
As the year wears on, those terms settle back down again, but I always come back to a full inbox on the first day after the Christmas break.
The break-up of a family is always difficult for everyone involved, regardless of whether one partner or both instigated the separation. Add children to the mix, and the whole thing becomes even more complex, and the need for sensitivity even more acute.
Note the last two search terms in the list above, though. Separation agreements and family mediation are increasingly used as ways in which a break-up can be kept as amicable as possible. Of course, the very process of divorce makes that a challenge, since emotions are high, and one or both partners may be struggling with feelings of hurt, humiliation, guilt, anger and more.
But particularly where children are part of the picture, many couples seek someone who can help them find common ground. A process known as collaborative law is being used more and more often by separating couples, with a view to finding the best outcome for everyone, and especially for the children. Very few people simply want a comrade-in-arms, since a drawn-out and bitter fight can be extremely upsetting and damaging for children.
In cases like these where I've been involved, couples have been able to agree a schedule where both parents are able to spend time with their kids, without the parental politics and games which so often go with that. Talking through issues can allow the family unit to continue to function, even to the extent that separated couples are able to meet at events like school parents' nights and family occasions without undue tension.
Taking the first step towards divorce is a major decision, which no-one takes lightly, and we should spare a thought for anyone wrestling with the issue at any time of year. Insofar as the breakdown of a marriage can ever yield a positive outcome, though, taking a more collaborative approach to divorce can at least remove some of the pain from the process.
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