Choose your battles

Choose your battles

This article was first published in Private Client Adviser on 18 December 2015 and is reproduced by kind permission.

Fighting your client’s corner during a divorce does not mean adopting a bullish stance; an amicable approach is just as likely to get the right results

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has recently published their latest bulletin, presenting the annual statistics on divorces that took place in England and Wales in 2013. The figures show a decrease of 2.9 per cent from 2012 in the number of people getting divorced and indicate that the previous estimate of 42 per cent of marriages ending in divorce is reducing.

Much of the commentary surrounding the statistics has focused on attributing the decrease to couples living together before marriage, either making the relationship less likely to break down or conversely, ‘filtering out weaker relationships from progressing to marriage’.

Others have pointed out that cohabitee relationship breakdown is not taken into account by the statistics and with cohabitation continuing to swiftly rise as a family-type in the UK, the recent figures showing a decline in divorce rates may not correspondingly indicate a decrease in family breakdown overall.

It is important to remember that the collateral damage caused to children of a family whose parents separate, is the same whether those parents are married or not. The figures show that 48 per cent of divorcing couples in 2013 ‘had at least one child aged under 16’.

The ONS commentary also highlights ‘two competing theories about the effect of an economic downturn on the number of partnerships dissolving’. In essence, one theory argues that financial instability leads to family instability and the other maintains that economic pressure leads to an increase in ‘family solidarity’.

I would suggest that rather than being ‘competing’, these two theories are both true and rather, it is the particular couple and their circumstances which dictate whether increased economic pressures ‘make or break’ a relationship.

It is widely documented that disagreements about money are one of the most common reasons for divorce. This feeds into another potential benefit of couples living together for a period of time before getting married, in that they can deal with the likely ‘stumbling blocks’ for a relationship such as organising finances between them.

Despite the decrease, unfortunately it remains inevitable that a number of marriages will end in divorce. At the point of relationship breakdown, it becomes very important how people choose to conduct themselves both during the process, but also going forward, particularly when children are involved.

The chair of Resolution, Jo Edwards, recently commented: ‘Children are more concerned about the conflict and acrimony that accompanies divorce than the divorce itself. That’s why it’s vital that divorcing and separating parents agree to put their differences aside and work together in the ongoing interests of their family.’

I feel that it is absolutely crucial for a family solicitor to take their pivotal role in aiming to reduce acrimony between separating couples very seriously during this time. Adopting a combative stance will more often than not encourage your client, their spouse and their spouse’s solicitor to do the same.

Many clients understandably want a solicitor to ‘fight their corner’, but there is a difference between protecting your client’s interests during a divorce and adopting an unnecessarily bullish stance. Encouraging your client to pursue a conciliatory and amicable approach throughout the divorce, and/or financial and children proceedings if applicable, is key to acting in their best interests.

Pippa Allsop is a family solicitor at Michelmores. She writes a regular blog for Private Client Adviser. For more information on any of the issues discussed, please contact Pippa on or 01392 687747.