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Fiona Snowdon, a solicitor specialising in Family Law at Campbell Hooper Solicitors LLP, offers practical advice on what to do when you reach the end of the road in a relationship

The New Year often signifies change to families’ domestic arrangements with, on average, 50% more divorces being commenced in January than at any other time of year.

This year is no exception and with finances being one of the most common causes of relationship problems, it is perhaps no surprise that couples are being rocked during these turbulent financial times.

A record rise in divorce has been reported in the US since the onset of the credit crunch. Business is booming for many US divorce lawyers with some reports of a 40% increase in caseload. As jobs are being lost and bonuses slashed, many wealthy spouses are making moves to secure their share of the matrimonial pot while they can.

On average, 50% more divorces are commenced in January than at any other time of year

Conversely, the divorce rate in this country is at its lowest for some 25 years. This is unfortunately not because we are bucking the statistical trend. Not only is marriage on the decline generally but estranged couples are being forced to stay living together due to prohibitive financial circumstances.

For most, the money in the relationship is equity in the family home which may be insufficient to fund two properties. This problem can arise even when there is a finalised divorce if there is insufficient capital or income to satisfy strict lending requirements that would enable a buyout or purchase of an alternative property. This is not a phenomenon confined to those earning a low income. In fact, the demographic worst hit appears to be middle class professionals, especially if they have children attending private school.

Another common problem is where a settlement is reached yet a buyer can not be found, leaving the warring couple stranded in a shared household. This can be particularly damaging if children are involved. In the US, where the effects of the recession are approximately 6 months ahead of the UK, some have found themselves in a situation whereby a sale of a property would result in a division of debt rather than equity. Others have resorted to sub-dividing the household and waiting it out until the market improves. Anita Gill, Head of the Private Client Department at Campbell Hooper Solicitors LLP, has noted a growing trend in transactions whereby sellers are being “gazundered” (ie. the price is dropped by the buyer at the last minute). Divorcing couples may be particularly vulnerable to this type of exploitation if the buyer is aware that the sellers have no choice but to sell.

The demographic worst hit appears to be middle class professionals, especially if they have children attending private school

In terms of the law, the economic downturn has meant that the goal posts are shifting, with the concept of a clean break (buying out all spousal maintenance claims with increased capital) becoming less achievable for certain clients. Maria Scotland, a barrister and family law specialist at Hardwicke Building chambers, confirms that in practice the search for liquidity of assets from the matrimonial pot is getting tougher. Falling share prices, pension scheme collapses, business failure and bankruptcy often mean that there is very little in the way of so-called solid “copper-bottom” assets to provide financial security for the separating couple. As a result and in spite of the associated costs, couples are fighting harder in order to “recessionproof” their finances. The “moneyed” parties are frequently having to be less generous to their ex-partner as they may have otherwise been due to anxiety about their financial future. Arguments such as pending unemployment or uncertainty of a bonus that would once have been regarded as spurious are now gaining more ground as a realistic consideration.

It has become necessary for divorce lawyers to devise more and more creative settlements as a means of solving a couple’s financial deadlock. In some cases, this is best suited to the mediation and/or collaborative law forum. These voluntary processes allow individuals tonegotiate and discuss future arrangements in the presence of trained impartial mediators or lawyers. Working together enables them to have more control over finances and to reach a more amicable and cost effective solution rather than going through the courts.

A shift towards alternative ways of resolving disputes in the near future may be an inevitable result of the desire for separating couples to work together rather than against each other.

‘Resolution’ are an organisation of over 5,000 family lawyers committed to the constructive and nonconfrontational approach to family disputes. They offer some practical advice on separation as follows:


  • Remember that although you may no longer be together, you will always both be the children’s parents.
  • Put the children first. 
  • Keep the door open to dialogue. Substitute politeness if love has gone. 
  • Be aware of the positive benefits of counselling in helping you cope with your changing relationship with your partner.
  • Be ready to compromise – an agreement between you is more likely to work than an order imposed by the court.


  • Tolerate threats or violence. Ask your solicitor how the law can help protect you.
  • Sign or agree to anything without speaking to your solicitor first.
  • Let your partner undermine your confidence in your solicitor.
  • Expect the best of your partner, or of yourself – aspire to reasonableness.  
  • Leave confidential documents where they can be found.

If you do find yourself in this situation whereby you require legal advice, you will first need to work out your budget for your future legal costs and whether you are eligible for legal aid. Most solicitors charge by the hour depending on level of qualification and will vary from firm to firm. It is often useful to have an initial consultation with a solicitor to clarify what your options are. This can be done on the basis of a fixed fee arrangement with no further obligation. Of course, not all situations will require legal recourse and other useful contacts are detailed below.

Fiona Snowdon is a solicitor at Campbell Hooper Solicitors LLP, who offer a range of family law services including alternative dispute resolution 0207 222 9070


General Legal Information: Resolution’s –

Legal Aid Lawyers: – The Community Legal Services Commission –

The Law Society: Find a Solicitor – 0870 606 2555 or

Benefit Information: –

Child Benefit Office: 0845 302 1444 or

Debt Advice: – The Citizens Advice Bureau: 0207 833 2181 or

National Debt Line: 0808 808 4000 or

Consumer Credit Counselling Service: 0800 138 1111 or

Mediation: – The Family Mediators Association: 0808 200 0033 or

National Family Mediation: 01392 271 610 or

The Centre For Separated Families: –

Families Need Fathers: 0870 760 7496 or

One Parent Families: 0800 018 5026 or

National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 200 0247 or

Children Matters: – The Child Support Agency: 08457 133 133 or

National Association of Child Contact Centres: 0845 4500 280 or

Counselling: – Lucy Selleck is a psychologist and former Relate Counsellor specialising in relationship difficulties: [email protected]

Relate for relationship counselling: 0845 456 1310 or

General Support and Confidential Advice: – ParentLine Plus: 0808 800 2222 or