The economy is rarely out of the news. Youth unemployment, pressures on welfare services and clearing up after the recent floods are responsible for an increase in the general rate of taxation. Recently, the government faced another headache when it comes to the economy, from a surprising quarter. An increase in the divorce rate was reported by the ONS (Office for National Statistics).
Nowadays thirteen couples are getting divorced every hour. This divorce rate, which has increased since 2011, imposes a cost on families in terms of the amount that they have to spend on essential goods and services. It usually costs more to support two households rather than one, and the costs of legal processes and fees can further diminish the pot of money that the separated family has at the end of the divorce.
This may seem like a private matter which has no consequence for the taxpayer. It is mainly the family who bear the costs of a divorce. However, taxpayers have to pick up an extensive legal aid bill for those couples who can not afford, and are eligible for state aid to cover the costs of a divorce settlement. In these times of austerity, taxpayers are increasingly reluctant to do so and the government has decided to cut the costs of legal aid.
The social costs of divorce
As well as increased costs to the taxpayer, there are wider costs of divorce. It is still the case that couples are getting divorced within the early years of their marriage (up to ten years). However, divorce is increasingly being sought by older couples.
These couples, sometimes on their second marriage, find that they may be in their 40s, 50s or even 60s when getting a divorce. This can lead to increased costs to society as these individuals approach retirement and may require increased pension and care costs.
Another social cost of divorce is on children and support services. Divorce can be very stressful for children and parents alike. For children, a messy divorce can cause problems in settling down at school and even problems with truancy and making friends. They may find it difficult as adults to form relationships if they have seen their parents go through a divorce. This leads to more costs for the taxpayer.
In terms of support services, parents who undergo a problematic divorce may find that they become ill or experience mental health problems such as depression. They may even turn to alcohol or drug use (prescription or illegal) to attempt to block out their problems. This, again, is a cost to society.
Mediation and austerity
The government has decided that this can no longer go on. In a time of austerity, the taxpayer can no longer afford to support divorce through either legal aid or through the social consequences of poorly handled divorce. A new bill which is progressing through parliament may resolve this problem.
The Children and Families Bill will place a greater role for mediation in the whole process of divorce. Mediation is a good solution in a time of austerity for two reasons.
Firstly, for the taxpayer, mediation is only one eighth the cost of divorce at a total cost of only a few hundred pounds. Mediation is a much cheaper solution as legal bills can spiral out of control. In contrast, mediation is a controlled process that leads to a simple, mutually agreed solution. Couples find mediation to be a sensible solution to their problems.
Secondly, by its nature, mediation attempts to attain a mutually agreeable solution between the couple. Mediation involves a series of meetings through which the couples arrive at an agreement that they can both sign to and agree to. The surprising benefit of mediation is that, due to its high success rate and the processes used, it leads to a much less adversarial outcome than divorce. For children, this means that they can see their parents get along, even after a messy divorce.
It also means that adults can get ahead with their new lives and may even mean that they can establish some kind of relationship with their partners in terms of aspects such as childcare.
Mediation does not work for every couple. In cases where there has been domestic violence, bankruptcy or coercion there may be no alternative but to use the courts. However, these cases are mercifully rare and in the vast majority of cases mediation is a workable alternative.
For the taxpayer and government alike, mediation is becoming a very sensible solution too.
There is no question that the divorce rate has increased due to the recent economic downturn. The result will, inevitably, be more divorces. It is less likely that the taxpayer is willing to pick up the bill for legal aid and, finally, couples are looking to mediation. This offers many benefits to couples, and there are many sources of information available on this beneficial service.