Although traditionally, the Christmas and New Year period is a time for celebration when families get together and have an opportunity to spend time with each other, it is also a time when family tensions can come to the fore and when people make decisions to end their marriage.

With more than 40 per cent of marriages expected to fail in the UK, every month is busy, but January and February hit a peak.

Margaret Simpson, a partner at Silk Family Law in the region, deals with a wide range of cases and typically sees an increase in the number of people seeking a divorce at this time of year.

“There is no typical ‘divorcing couple’,” says Margaret. “Increasingly, however, we see people who have been married for more than 50 years deciding that they do not want to spend the rest of their life in a miserable relationship. On occasions, we see people who have only been married a matter of months who decide that there is no future in the marriage.

“Whatever the reason, it is usually a very difficult and stressful time for all concerned, including the children and extended family.

“To exacerbate issues, it is a time when parties are being asked to make significant and long-term decisions regarding their future – particularly in relation to whether the family home should be retained or sold, where the children are to live, access arrangements, and how finances need to be addressed.

“As it currently stands, to commence divorce proceedings you must have been married for at least a year and prove one of five facts to the court, namely:

l Adultery;

l Unreasonable behaviour;

l Desertion;

l Two-year separation (with consent of other party);

l Five-year separation (if consent is not forthcoming).

“In the absence of the required period of separation, it is necessary for the party who wishes to commence divorce proceedings to show that the other party has committed adultery or has behaved unreasonably. If neither of these facts exist, then they would have to live separately and apart for at least two years.

“The person who petitions will have to pay the court fee of £550 and any legal costs but may claim some or all of those costs back from the other party.

“Each party will retain parental responsibility and have a right to have a say in important decisions relating to the children. Arrangements will need to be made in relation to who the children live with, which may involve a shared care arrangement and when and how they should spend time with the other parent.

“There may sometimes be complicating factors, which mean that the children could be at potential risk of harm from a parent due to issues, such as domestic violence, drug or alcohol abuse, or fears that the children could be taken abroad to live. In all of these circumstances, urgent advice is needed.

“Getting divorced is not easy. With professional support you will be guided through the process smoothly so you can move on with your life.”

n For legal advice about divorce, contact Margaret Simpson at Silk Family Law on 01748-902610 or visit

This Legal Expert column has been provided in conjunction with the Law Society.