“Worrying lack of awareness” about divorce process risks increasing cost & stress of break-ups
25 Nov 2013
Couples risk increasing the stress and cost of divorce settlements because of a “worrying lack of awareness” about a wide variety of non-court based solutions according to relationship experts, following the publication of new polling published today (25 Nov).
There is “patchy understanding” and “ill-founded scepticism” about alternatives to going to court during break-ups according to a new poll commissioned by Resolution – the body representing 6,500 family law professionals in England and Wales. The problem is “exacerbated” by recent cuts to legal aid, meaning that “fewer couples have access to free legal advice, and so fewer people are being directed by solicitors towards solutions other than court.”
This is despite the fact that for many couples, avoiding a lengthy courtroom battle can reduce stress and can result in significant financial savings. In fact it is estimated that over 115,000 people each year could save money and stress during relationship break ups if they are made fully aware of all their options.
Scepticism about the benefits of avoiding court:
The ComRes poll of over 4,000 British adults found that:
- Only half of people surveyed (51%) say they would consider trying a non-court-based solution instead of going court if they were to divorce in the future.
- There is ill-founded scepticism about the legality of non-court solutions - just 23% of British adults believe that non-court based methods of divorce and separation “make the terms of the separation clear to both parties”.
- Just one quarter of British adults (24%) think that non-court based methods of divorce “protect the rights of both parties”.
- Just 52% of British adults say they think that non-court based methods of divorce and separation “are better for the wellbeing of couples”.
- Only 50% of British adults say that “non-court based methods of divorce and separation are better for the wellbeing of children”.
Liz Edwards, Chair of Resolution, said: “Today’s findings uncover a worrying lack of awareness about the options available to couples who are going through break-ups. There is at best a patchy understanding about non-court based solutions that often prove less stressful and less expensive than a lengthy courtroom battle. There is also ill-founded scepticism about the legality of non-court solutions – a myth that we need to urgently bust.”
“This is understandable to a certain extent. People don’t think about these issues or where to go for advice until they are faced with the prospect of break-up. But everyone – Government, the profession and individuals - has to do their bit to ensure the right information is out there and people going through a break-up are aware of their options.
“For some couples, court is the only option; but for the vast majority there are other, more suitable solutions which make the difficult process of break-up that much less stressful. This year’s Family Dispute Resolution Week is designed to address this lack of understanding.
Reduced Availability of Legal Aid exacerbating the problem:
Statistics compiled by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) published in September 2013 show that the number of couples attending out-of-court sessions to resolve family disputes since cuts to legal aid were introduced in April 2013 have already fallen by nearly 40%. Between May and September 2012, there were 5,983 publicly-funded mediation cases started – in the equivalent period in 2013, after the cuts, there were 3,651 – a drop of 39%.
Liz Edwards, Chair of Resolution said: “As a result of legal aid cuts fewer people have access to free legal advice, and so fewer couples are being directed by solicitors towards solutions other than court.”
“The government’s aim to have separating couples avoid the courts where possible is admirable and one that we share. But without legal aid, people are less likely to see a family law professional who will – if they are a member of Resolution - talk them through all their options. This lack of awareness is borne out by the poll, which found that more than a third of British adults (36%) do not know what family mediation is.”
Impact on children:
Despite scepticism about non-court based solutions the polling found that half (50%) of respondents agreed that these methods of divorce and separation are better for the wellbeing of children. Of those British adults who say that they have ever been separated or divorced, the polling finds that more than two-fifths (44%) say they there were children in the household when the break-up occurred.
The polling was commissioned as part of Family Dispute Resolution Week (25th-29th November 2013) during which Resolution is launching a new advice guide, providing more information about the options available for couples going through separation or divorce. This guide can be downloaded at: www.resolution.org.uk/separatingtogether
As part of the survey respondents were also asked about a series of ‘Christmas Stress Factors’. It found that more than 40% of people find the Christmas season “very stressful” while one in three (33%) say they “just want the Christmas season to be over as soon as possible”. The findings also show that festive stress increases “significantly” for couples who have ever been divorced or separated:
- 45% of British adults who have been separated or divorced in the past and are not currently in a relationship or marriage say that they “just want the Christmas season to be over as soon as possible”.
- This compares to just 30% of people who have not been separated or divorced.
- This rises to a staggering 50% of pensioners (over 65s) who have been separated or divorced, compared to just 32% of those aged between 35 and 44 who have ever been separated or divorced.