Charity says number of couples in conflict soared during the pandemic, despite drop in divorce rates

Despite a drop in divorce rates, couples in conflict soared during the pandemic.

National Family Mediation (NFM), a charity that helps families to sort arrangements for children, property, finance and other important matters, says that nosediving divorce statistics is not a true representation of the number of families in conflict.

According to the latest data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) the number of divorces completed in 2020 was 103,592. A 4.5% drop on the previous year.

However, while the data suggests more people are working through their problems and choosing to stay together, experts say that isn’t the case.

Jane Robey, the CEO of NFM, explains: “The data doesn’t take into consideration a number of very important factors – including the challenges brought about by the pandemic, and the makeup of modern families across Britain.

“Firstly, more people than ever are choosing to live together without getting married, so any relationship breakdowns affecting that group is not included in the figures.

“Secondly, we know the pandemic caused huge delays in the family courts, so there was inevitably a drop in completed cases.

“Finally, we know that many people have chosen to delay proceedings over the last year or, either while they focused on just getting through lockdown, homeschooling and associated money worries, or in order to wait for no-fault divorce to come into force.

“Either way, we would be incredibly naïve to think that the drop in divorce rates is any reflection on the true extent of the number of warring couples.”

In contrast, Jane says that NFM helped in excess of 6000 families during the same period via a combination of online and in-person mediation sessions. The charity reports that money, child-related matters and property were top of the mediation agenda for many.

Jane adds: “Thankfully, there is some recognition across Government of the number of families experiencing conflict, whether they were officially married or not, and the impact that is having on children in particular.

“Last year a voucher scheme was introduced, which is worth up to £500 and that can be accessed by anyone wanting to mediate in relation to child matters.”

Jane explains that the scheme, which recently received an extra £1.3 million in funding, was introduced to help ease some of the burden being experienced by the family courts which continue to face a significant logjam of cases; a problem which has been made worse by the pandemic.

Families can use the vouchers to work with professional mediators, who are highly skilled third party negotiators with experience in helping families create long-term solutions that work well for their particular circumstances.

Jane added: “Rather than leaving it to a judge to decide who will live where, what happens to the money, debts and pensions, and arrangements for the children, mediation empowers families themselves to decide these things. It’s their future after all.”

Legal Aid also remains available for family mediation.