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Weston-super-Mare wrongly named as divorce 'hotspot'

image caption92% of the divorces filed in Weston-super-Mare last year came from an online company

The government has wrongly named Weston-super-Mare as a divorce "hotspot" of England and Wales.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said the Somerset town of 80,000 people saw 2,447 divorce petitions last year.

It said high divorce figures underlined the need for mediation to ease disputes.

However, it has emerged that 92% of the petitions in Weston relate to clients of the website Divorce-Online, from across the country.

Birmingham topped the list with almost 3,000 petitions, followed by Weston-super-Mare county court and Leicester county court with over 1,800. These figures were the highest for any part of England and Wales, outside of Greater London.

Mark Keenan, managing director of Divorce-Online, said the company was advised to file its petitions in Weston by the MoJ as the court there had more capacity.

Financial disputes

The MoJ released the figures in order to urge couples to make use of new publicly-funded mediation services.

Family Justice minister Lord McNally said: "All too often I hear stories of families going through expensive and traumatic court hearings, but we know that when working out how to split assets and arrange time with the children, mediation is a far simpler and cheaper approach for everyone and leads to better outcomes."

The average cost of resolving property and financial disputes caused by separation is around £500 through mediation, said the MoJ, compared to £4,000 for issues settled through the courts.

A mediated case will typically take 110 days compared with 435 days for non-mediated cases.

Economic downturn

Ruth Sutherland, chief executive of the relationship charity Relate, said: "It is not the hotspots of where in country people are getting divorce that is crucial, but the 'hot points' in people's relationships where they feel under pressure that is important, and when people feel under pressure they should not feel worried about getting support."

Relate said money was the biggest cause of arguments in relationships, adding that a recent Relate survey found that one in five counsellors had seen an increase in clients due to the economic downturn.

The MoJ expects to spend £25m on mediation services this year. It has changed the law so couples seeking a court order over child contact or a financial matter must attend a mediation assessment session first.

Mediation services involve the use of an independent and qualified third-party to help couples divide their assets or arrange child contact without going to court.

The government has set up a website app to help separating parents work together to minimise the impact of their break up on their children and avoid the courts - 'Sorting Out Separation' - has already been visited by 40,000 parents.

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