Separating couples missing out on vital help during January ‘Divorce Month’
New start apart, but which way do you turn?
Thousands of separating couples across England and Wales are not getting the help they desperately need at their time of crisis because they do not know which way to turn, says a leading family charity.
With over 100,000 marriages ending each year, and signs that January’s traditional upsurge in separations will again occur this year, National Family Mediation (NFM) has released data which shows huge increases in calls taken by its specialist helpline staff. But it also show that each month in 2014 an average of 770 calls went unanswered because the charity does not have funding to employ more specialist staff to help families at their time of need.
“At a time of crisis, you need to know where you can turn for help,” says Jane Robey, CEO of NFM. “This January, as couples resolve to make a new start apart, there will be thousands of people rooting around for the advice and help they need to kickstart their futures.
“It’s easy to be seduced by the inviting façade of the high-street solicitor, and the promise of achieving a courtroom ‘victory’ over your ex. But there are other ways to manage your separation that are better for the children and which allow you to keep control over your own destiny. There is no need to leave it to a court to make vital life-changing decisions.
“Without easy access to advice for your own situation, you can end up taking what’s become the default route towards an acrimonious and courtroom battle that you can ill afford and that will leave you and your children scarred for years.”
Jane Robey says the dramatic increase in demand for the charity’s specialist telephone helpline shows more and more people who face separation are confused about which way to turn.
“Our specialist staff have taken over 2,200 calls each month in 2014, a rise of 67 per cent on the year before. The nature of the calls has changed too, with increased confusion and bewilderment as people struggle to understand their options.
Justice Minister aware of rise in calls
“The number of calls our hard-pushed staff have missed, because they’ve been on other calls, is worrying. Tenacious couples ring back later, but too many will be falling through the net, exposing themselves to high-cost legal fees to settle their divorce when there are much cheaper and quicker options.
“We shared our figures and our fears with Justice Minister Simon Hughes when he visited us recently, and we are seeking funding that would enable more specialist staff to be recruited to provide the help these families badly need.
“Family mediation empowers separating families to reach agreements solutions on property, finance and children that are in their own interests. Its timescales are significantly quicker than court. It allows families to stay in control of their destiny, their finances and their new family relationships, because decisions are made by you, rather than about you. It is less confrontational than a court battle, and it has fixed costs with flexible payment terms - it remains free if you are eligible for Legal Aid.”
For more information about mediation go to www.nfm.org.uk. The website includes a facility allowing you to find your local non-profit professional mediation service by entering your postcode. Alternatively call 0300 4000 636.