Uncheery January might be even more tense for married couples, writes Neil Russell
As we embed ourselves into the New Year and return to the normality of work, the increase in divorces around this time of year is often remarked upon and begs the question – are divorces becoming more seasonal each year? Holidays of any sort can place pressure on decision making and put marriages to the test, waiting for the children to go back to school or back to university can bring with it a time for the parents to review their own status. Planned holidays often delay decisions being taken.
This is the bottleneck explanation, which goes on. For example, when away on holiday, a burst of cabin fever and then the digital footprint is ever present, the stray texts, WhatsApp, Facebook posting, LinkedIn communication or some other missive from a third party. Yes, the revelation of an inappropriate relationship, whether that is a digital affair, a real affair or just the wrong interpretation of a communication. Whatever it may be, the impact can be very far reaching, ending in a divorce. Then there are significant issues to be addressed and confronted, including the financial consequences and those consequences impacting on the children.
In England, we have a conservative view on adultery: sex outside marriage is wrong! In France it is estimated that in a third of marriages, people have strayed. The key thing is discretion. Jacques Chirac wrote in his own memoires about his affairs ‘There have been women I have loved a lot, as discretely as possible’. Query: if discretion is sufficient, is the adultery acceptable? Not so in England.
The ONS statistics produced in 2016 recorded 106,959 divorces (an increase of 5.8 per cent compared with 2015). The majority of divorces in 2016 where a Decree Absolute was granted were petitioned by the wife (61 per cent). The most common ground for divorce was unreasonable behaviour, with 36 per cent of all husbands and 51 per cent of all wives petitioning for divorce on these grounds.
Interestingly, unreasonable behaviour has only been the most common ground for husbands petitioning since 2006. In the 1980s and 1990s adultery was generally the most common ground for husbands petitioning, but between 1999 and 2005, it was separation (maintained for two years and with consent). The latest figures in France in 2015 show a similar number of divorces at 120,731, but without reference to the number of adultery petitions. Unfortunately for French wives, it is suggested that French culture is hard on women who cheat, seemingly exposing the double standards that exist.
A poll carried out by PEW Research Centre on global attitudes in 2013 on extra-marital affairs showed that in France only 47 per cent of people said that married people having an affair was morally unacceptable, compared with 76 per cent in Britain.
The government has agreed to consult on divorce law reform with a view to ending the blame game. Will no fault divorce relax views further still, rendering adultery an even less common reason for ending a marriage?
For my part as a family law solicitor, there is nothing more upsetting than the rawness of a jilted partner having learned of their spouse’s infidelity. It is not just the infidelity itself if that has been the case, but also the betrayal, even if such a relationship is emotional rather than physical.
Photo credit: Imagine_images @Pixabay
Neil Russell is a family partner at Seddons