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Valentine’s Day and the festivities surrounding it are notoriously a difficult time for separating couples: from the constant email marketing promos to the social media snaps of happy couples, it’s getting harder to avoid the fanfare of celebrations. However, against the backdrop of a global pandemic and the strict measures designed to stem the spread of the virus, things aren’t getting easier. If this sounds familiar, you aren’t alone – in fact, it’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a sharp rise in applications for divorce as couples have been forced to live in close proximity for longer.

Why the pandemic is causing a spike in divorce rates

While we are yet to see the ONS data on divorce rates from 2020, figures from the Citizens Advice website traffic data shows that the advice webpage on divorce had more than 2200 views on the first weekend of September, which was a 25% increase compared to the same weekend in 2019. In July, weekly searches for “getting a divorce” on their webpage spiked to nearly 14000, compared to just over 8000 during the same period in 2019. These figures serve to highlight the distinctly negative impact of the lockdowns on relationships already under strain.

For many, the existing issues in the marriage have been compounded by the lockdown and the economic and emotional curveball that came with the pandemic. Considering the often-painful nature of divorce, could mediation be the viable alternative for separated couples?

Since the onset of the pandemic, the lack of certainty and ability to plan ahead has plagued families across the globe. Financial pressures brought on by the closure of businesses has undoubtedly played its role in the breakdown of relationships; the emotional stress of having little control over your personal finances will have taken its toll for many. While divorce is on the rise, others may feel staying in a bad marriage provides some stability, or that the cost of divorce is simply not justifiable. This is where mediation can provide an alternative solution, allowing you to keep the costs low and the stress to a minimum while putting on the table some practical suggestions for issues at the heart of the separation.

What is mediation?

Our view is that a calm approach to splitting up is always advisable above a bitterly fought battle. While it may be inevitable in certain cases, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for separating couples and it doesn’t always have to come at a high financial and emotional cost.  Mediation is an avenue for couples who decide to put an end to their relationship and move forward by making clear decisions about their future in a neutral environment. Both parties will be involved in discussions that are refereed by an experienced dispute resolution solicitor or mediator. The aim here is not to encourage the couple to get back together, but rather, to make arrangements for issues such as children, property and finances without the need for litigation.

What are the benefits of mediation?

Beyond the cost savings of avoiding court, the benefits of mediation are many – for one, the impact on your children is lessened when decisions are made in a calm environment and parental co-operation is made possible. By maintaining open lines of communication and keeping the conflict to a minimum, separating coupes can retain control of the process and achieve resolution in a manner that doesn’t exacerbate the toll to mental health that both separation and lockdown will have had on the individuals involved.

Of course, mediation is not suitable in every circumstance. In the first instance, we recommend arranging a free consultation with our specialist family law solicitors to determine whether mediation is an appropriate avenue for you. During this meeting, we will seek to gain an understanding of your unique situation and the challenges you are facing. From here, we’ll advise on the best route to resolution, aiming to keep the time, stress and costs low wherever possible.

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