13/12/2016 09:12 GMT | Updated 14/12/2017 05:12 GMT

Preparing For A January Hangover

I've been prowling the supermarket shelves this week, bypassing the Christmas treats, goodies and drinks that have been part and parcel of the shopping experience since October.

I'll square with you. I'm looking forward to Christmas but, as a family dispute specialist, I tend to see these things with a slightly different eye. That's because I'm already preparing for the January hangover.

Those wine bottles and chocolate selections help many families enjoy what's traditionally a special time of year. Special, yes, but also stressful. So stressful that you can be sure that this Christmas will be the last hurrah for many families' relationships.

That's why I and my family mediator colleagues are readying ourselves for an upsurge in demand for our services come January. The time when families up and down the land realise that whatever kept them going through Christmas isn't enough to sustain the relationship that's been falling apart for months or even years.

The time when strained relationships finally snap.

Couples have been together during the holiday period, with no pressure escape valve and money pressures thrown in. Then comes the expectation to make a New Year resolution to change something. And so thousands of couples will next month recognise the final straw has been reached.

For those in this position, the question is not so much 'Is it time to call time on the relationship?', so much as 'In practical terms, how do we end it, and what do we do about the kids, the money and the family home?'

So with Christmas traditions looming, let's bunk the biggest 'tradition' surrounding divorce. That's the outdated notion that to manage a separation you need to head straight off to a lawyer. You don't.

There's an alternative to preparing for a lengthy, expensive and confrontational courtroom fight with your ex. After all, that route usually ends with a judge handing down a settlement that's in nobody's interests.

People increasingly understand that mediated agreements between the two exes are not only cheaper, quicker and less stressful to achieve. They also lead to much better outcomes for everyone involved - especially the children - than prioritising lawyers and the legal route.

Family mediation helps people resolve all the legal and emotional aspects of a divorce or separation. It's a confidential and voluntary process where a trained professional mediator helps couples arrive at joint decisions, making sustainable plans for the future.

Instead of abandoning control of your future to a judge who knows nothing about your family, it's families themselves who stay in the driving seat. Vital day-to-day arrangements for finance, property and parenting are agreed, and they're based on each family members' unique circumstances and needs.

After you've decided 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. We know that 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.

Our non-profit family mediators achieve full agreement on issues in over 80% of cases. And it's worth stressing that Legal Aid remains available for family mediation.

Web searches, emails and phone calls to family mediators and other divorce specialists soar in 'Divorce Month' January. And the profile of family mediation was raised massively this summer by our ground-breaking BBC2 TV documentary series 'Mr v Mrs: Call The Mediator'. As a result we expect January's upsurge in enquiries to be greater even than last year's.

So that's why I'm already preparing for January hangovers now, fully expecting that as well as pledging an end to their relationship, thousands of couples will also pledge to put the children's interests first, recognising family mediation can often be the best way to achieve this.

More information is at