January represents a sea change in many couple relationships. Time spent together over Christmas, with family and finance pressures, heralds recognition the bond has failed: you don't want to be together any more. It's probably been building for some time, but along comes the traditional new year resolve to change something in your life... and you can see why January is dubbed 'Divorce Month'.
Divorce-related web searches and phone enquiries soar around now. We've analysed National Family Mediation's web stats for the first few days of 2016: page visits and users are up some 40% even over last January's higher-than-ever figures. So does this mean the January Divorce phenomenon is actually gathering momentum this year?
Well, not necessarily. You see, as family mediators we offer an alternative way of settling divorce arrangements. We believe people increasingly understand the role mediation can play in settling the thorny issues arising when you split. What happens to the property, the money, the debts, pensions and so on? Most important of all, what about arrangements for the children?
The 'traditional' way of managing divorce has seen both parents heading to a solicitor to prepare for a long-winded, expensive and confrontational courtroom battle. And at the end the court hands down a settlement that's rarely in anyone's interests. Bitterness and resentment simmer for years. And when the inevitable changes in life occur - new relationships, children moving on to secondary school, and so on - things need to be re-negotiated. Cue more confrontation. Cash registers chime for somebody, but not for those most affected.
We look at things differently. Research shows family mediation is cheaper, quicker and produces better outcomes than using lawyers and the legal route. It is a short, time-limited intervention that helps people resolve all the legal and emotional aspects of a divorce or separation.
It offers a voluntary, confidential process helping people reach joint decisions without using court: a safe, neutral place where couples no longer in a relationship meet with a trained professional mediator to make sustainable future plans. Families can keep control of vital day-to-day arrangements for finance, property and parenting, agreeing long-term solutions that are based on the family members' unique circumstances, rather than being determined by a family court judge.
Making the transition after family breakdown from parenting-together to parenting-apart is tough. But parents who can work together after separation are 80% more likely to reduce the impact of the separation on their children, helping them maintain a relationship with both parents.
This doesn't mean the separated couple will get on famously: the hearts and flowers have long since withered and died, after all. But it's possible - and desirable - to develop a 'business-type' relationship with you ex; similar perhaps to the one you have with a dentist, plumber or GP. Okay, it may sound odd - it's the very last thing you'd want with someone from whom you've just had an acrimonious split. Yet after deciding to divorce, the key to a positive future for everyone in the family is making an active choice to maintain a dialogue over things that matter, like your children.
The temptation is to wage war but it's couples who stand back from the bitterness they feel, instead focusing on the future importance of co-parenting, whose families will flourish for years to come. It's a tough change of gear, but re-engineering your relationship with your ex can be the key to a positive future for everyone in the family. Mediation plays a vital role in enabling couples to do this.
Our professional non-profit family mediators reach full agreement on issues in over 80% of cases. And despite legislative changes of recent years, Legal Aid remains available for family mediation.
In 2014 the government changed the law to ensure that people must actively consider mediation before they can apply for a court order for divorce, by attending a Mediation Assessment and Information Meeting (MIAM). It's one reason why National Family Mediation web hits continue to rise, especially at this time of the year.
But we fervently believe that family mediation cannot simply become a 'box-ticking' exercise on the road to a bruising courtroom encounter. Instead it's a chance to stay in control of your future and shape your own destiny, more quickly cheaply and with less stress.
So this January as well as pledging to end your relationship, I suggest you make a secondary undertaking: to always put the children's interests first, and recognise family mediation can help ensure this vow doesn't die quickly, the way most new year resolutions do.