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Relate research paints distressing picture of relationships

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Relate relationship research.

When I took a call a few weeks ago from my local newspaper asking for a comment on a report stating that 2.87 million Britons were in ‘distressed relationships’ I was at first stumped. Where had these frightening figures come from, and what did they really tell us?

I soon discovered that the figures were taken from research by Relate, the relationship breakdown specialists. A “distressed” relationship was defined by them as one where issues and disagreements are severe, leading to clinically significant negative impact on well-being.

Perhaps of more concern was that the research highlighted that 1.4 million families are at breaking point. Parents with children under 16 are more likely to be in distressed relationships.
Sad news indeed.

Of course, not all of these “distressed” relationships result in separation or divorce. Sometimes issues flare up and can be resolved but where a relationship has irretrievably broken down this ‘distress’ can sometimes spill over into divorce proceedings and the negotiations about finances and the care of children from the relationship.

Keeping the distress out of the divorce process

The public perception of lawyers is all we want to do is fight. Possibly that's because only a few high profile cases make the press and that’s where people get their perceptions from. The truth is, though, that most family lawyers want to help people move forward in a positive way.

Our job as lawyers is to help with the legal process in a non-confrontational way. We believe things can be worked out in a constructive manner. Part of my role is to take away the tension and look at things in quite a different way.

Children are often at the epicentre of the process. As a family lawyer, my initial advice to parents is to focus on the needs of the children and try to keep them separate from the “adult” issues. Children do not need to be aware of issues concerning money and property. They need to know that they are loved by both of their parents and that they will continue to be loved moving forward. 

I feel it’s my role to encourage people to try to be as amicable with their ex as possible. To try and focus on moving forward rather than going over each other’s past mistakes or failings. A bloody, expensive court battle is not the only option available, indeed, it is usually the last resort once all other avenues have been exhausted. I find myself issuing a common word of warning - that Court can be very expensive and unpredictable in terms of outcome. Mediation, collaboration or assisted mediation can often bring swifter and more effective resolution to any disagreements a couple may have as they go through the divorce process.

Focusing on the facts to reach an amicable solution

Family lawyers have to focus on the facts and try to keep emotion at bay; to facilitate discussion and strive for an amicable resolution so that parents can move forward having control over the decisions that they make in an informed way, with the main focus being on the welfare of their children. After all, people do not stop being parents when their children reach 18. They will be parents forever and if they can move forward with a sense of fairness and respect for each other, their children will benefit for many years to come.

Catherine Edmondson
Divorce & family lawyer Stoke on Trent

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