'Divorce Day' as money worries drive couples apart

By Joanna Hall
Business reporter, BBC News

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If you're married then it might be best to tread carefully today which has been dubbed "divorce day" by lawyers.

The first working Monday of the year after the festive period typically sees a rise in couples feeling disillusioned about their relationships.

It's when some married couples make enquiries about divorce, leading to an increase in business for solicitors.

Money worries are the main reason for break-ups driving one in ten married couples to split, a survey has found.

Over a third of respondents (37%) say financial pressures are the biggest challenge their marriage faces, while just over a fifth (22%) say most of the arguments they have with their partner are about money, according to the survey of just over 2,000 people by law firm Slater and Gordon.

"Relationships which are already showing cracks are likely to buckle under the added pressure and expense that Christmas brings," says Slater and Gordon family lawyer Lorraine Harvey.

The most recent divorce figures from the Office for National Statistics reveal that nearly 107,000 heterosexual couples divorced last year - that's an increase of 5.8% compared with 2015 and the highest increase since 2009.

The legal formality of getting a divorce in England and Wales is relatively straightforward.

But practical issues like financial settlements and arrangements for children can complicate matters. So it's no wonder many couples resort to lawyers to navigate the way out of their marriage.

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Analysis by BBC personal finance reporter Kevin Peachey:

The most obvious way to keep down the cost of a divorce or dissolution is to come to an agreement without the use of solicitors or other professionals, particularly if it is an amicable split.

In Scotland, the do-it-yourself option is set out in law and called "simplified" divorce or dissolution. Only certain couples can use this procedure. For example, it is not available for those with children aged under 16.

In Northern Ireland, couples have to appear in person before a judge in either a county court or a High Court. However, they can appear in court as a "personal petitioner", without having to use a solicitor.

In England and Wales, couples can do it themselves or use a low-cost online service.

The cost of divorce can also be huge.

On average couples can end up paying in the region of £9,000, with the figure for Londoners more than £18,000, according to a survey by law firm Seddons.

Since 2013, it's no longer possible to use legal aid to help with divorce costs, unless there has been domestic violence or child abduction.

So it is important to research financial options when thinking about getting divorced.

But it may be possible to get through the process with little or no help from a solicitor.

According to the government's Money Advice Service, if both partners have agreed to divorce and their finances are relatively straightforward, it is possible to save money on legal fees by ending the marriage using a so-called quick divorce.

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But in the vast majority of divorces, where finances are less clear cut a financial order may have to be imposed by the court.

A financial order settles money matters relating to pensions, maintenance and property assets; with the division being agreed between the former spouses or their lawyers.

In rare instances, a judge will impose a settlement for divorcing couples, it's cases like these where the legal bills can escalate.

'Clogged courts'

Divorce solicitor Toby Hales from Seddons said reaching a financial settlement "can be harder for couples when they disagree".

"They can find the courts are clogged, causing further distress and a crippling drain on their finances," he said.

On average, it takes nearly a year for a divorcing couple to reach a financial agreement, but in in nearly a quarter of a cases it took over 18 months, according to Seddons' survey.

By the time some people making divorce enquiries today receive their Decree Absolute, the paper which formally ends a marriage, it could well be next Christmas.

Even then they may still have not resolved their financial arrangements.

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