THE BLOG

That's I.T! Workplace Technology as the 'Third Party' in Divorce

17/02/2014 13:32 GMT | Updated 19/04/2014 10:59 BST

The rapid advance of technology over the last few decades has brought with it many blessings.

We now possess the ability to manage different aspects of our lives from mobile devices no bigger than the palms of our hands. We can bank, buy, stay in touch with relatives and friends on the other side of the world, and even record our favourite TV programmes while on the move.

Such change has also, however created many temptations. Given that we can take advantage of such convenience when we're away from home, it sometimes becomes difficult to switch off when we leave the office, for instance, and head back to our families.

What should be quality time spent with spouses and children appears to be increasingly eaten into by work e-mails, calls and texts.

It's a pattern which accounts for a growing proportion of cases which I and the other lawyers in the family department at Pannone, which is now part of Slater & Gordon, find ourselves dealing with.

As the Office for National Statistics (ONS) only recently outlined, unreasonable behaviour is cited as the reason for some 48 per cent of all divorces in England and Wales.

It may come as no surprise to some to hear that work-related issues play a part in a considerable proportion of those kinds of marital difficulties. Many of us have heard of friction caused by people spending too long at the office or even forming relationships with colleagues.

Such matters generally account for approximately half of the divorces which we see.

There is a difference, though, because we are now hearing allegations about spouses not fully contributing to domestic life because they are spending too much time answering work e-mails or dealing with work-related matters while at home. In fact, they make up about one-quarter of all the cases that we are handling.

What we are seeing is quite distinct from earlier studies which have highlighted the negative impact of social media on marriages.

To previous generations, taking work home might have meant occasionally reading or writing a report. Now, there can be easy and constant remote contact with the office late at night, at weekends and during holidays too.

In my experience, it rarely seems to fuel sudden confrontation but can create slow-burning tensions which may ultimately damage a relationship beyond repair.

Typically, one spouse feels an obligation to respond to an e-mail from a senior manager or a client. The other may believe that this leaves them having to make an unfair share of the effort needed to maintain the marriage.

These issues have become so frequent that technology could be said to have become the 'third party' in many divorces, in the same way that allegations about inappropriate relations with an office colleague might perhaps have featured in the past.

Of course, it is not easy to learn how to strike the so-called work-life balance. Many staff feel under an expectation to work even when they leave the office, leading to gripes that husbands or wives are not fully involved in family life because they cannot switch off.

There are some cases, though, in which it is often unclear whether spouses' commitment to work is the root cause or whether individuals turn to work when there are problems at home with that distraction only making the situation worse.