There are many things people may want to celebrate at the end of marriage. A new chapter starting. The end of an unhappy period in their life. The thought of a new relationship with someone who may turn out to be a better “fit”. However, there are probably more things that people regret when they get divorced – and a survey has revealed that the thing people regret more than anything else is the effect the split has on their children.
Of the 867 people surveyed for research carried out by Seddons solicitors in conjunction with The Marriage Foundation, roughly one-third – the highest proportion – stated this as their biggest regret. A similar number believed it had affected their children's emotional development, though a small number actually felt the divorce had had a positive effect.
While this aspect was the focus of the media coverage around the survey, there are a number of other interesting aspects to the full set of results. Firstly, there is a significant difference in some of the answers given by men and women. For instance, 38% of women wished they'd have known more about their partners character, values or interests at the start of the relationship, compared to just 30% of men. A quarter of women wished they had learned how to communicate better or support each other more, compared to 20% of men, while just 17% of men wish they had better known how to handle disagreements, compared to 22% of women. This highlights the different attitudes men and women have about relationships – though of course the results could be skewed by particularly bad experiences of the men questioned!
Less than 20% of those questioned “formally prepared for marriage”. I am assuming this covers things like people actually looking into what marriage legally means, something we as family law specialist see all the time. The fact that certain assets and liabilities become joined, for instance. Some couples may also find it helpful to speak to relationship counsellors who can tell them what to expect and how to work through issues to try and ensure they do not get blown out of proportion. These things can help save marriages. The most common reason people gave for not doing anything like this is that they didn’t know such services existed.
Most (around 80%) people didn't get any form of marriage counselling when their relationship got into difficulty and it is interesting that 61% of people don’t regret marrying or cohabiting, even though it ended in breakdown. The figure is lower for women (58%) compared to men (66%), perhaps surprisingly when viewed against some of the men’s results detailed above.
So what does this survey tell us and what can we do to help? Some of it we already know. The fact that men and women think very differently is not news to anyone – especially not a family lawyer! The fact that children are often those worst affected by divorce is not news either, but should remind us that they should be at the heart of what we do when sorting out a relationship break-up. What is best for them is paramount and ensuring all involved in the process know this is vital.
Do we need a greater focus on educating couples before they marry, or even live together, about what to expect? An element of this would be explaining the legalities but also how to work through issues, the importance of give and take, and even encouraging them to draw up some domestic ground rules before they take the plunge.
Finally perhaps encouraging more people to seek help if their relationship is in trouble should be something to concentrate on. I feel there is still a stigma about seeking support or counselling and it is certainly not for everyone. However, if by identifying the reliable and professional sources of support, we can save just a few marriages, it will have been worth it.