I was reminded today of the role that mental illness (and addictive behaviour) played in the breakdown of my marriage and the stressful, protracted and expensive divorce process that ensued.
As I mentioned in my last post, the divorce rate for marriages where the wife is the main breadwinner is 1 in 2. And all too often mental health plays a part.
Men who make less money than their wives are more likely to suffer from a range of physical and mental health issues
Men who make less money than their wives are more likely to suffer from a range of physical and mental health issues, according to a study from Rutgers University.
Certainly poor mental health, anger and addiction were all present in my marriage… and divorce.
My ex turned up this morning to take my youngest to her swimming lesson but stank of alcohol. I knew from WhatsApp that he hadn’t gone to bed until 2.30am. So at 10.30am I was not happy about him driving, and certainly not about letting him drive anywhere with our child in the car.
He wasn’t happy with my decision and slammed the door on his way out. But I had to put the safety of my child ahead of what he wanted.
How the legal process fuels resentment and anger
I knew divorce for us was never going to be easy. Some couples split and remain friends. They go through mediation and spend as little as £550 after amicably working through how best to split their assets and raise their children.
For the rest of us, mental health issues, addictions, personality disorders or just good old-fashioned anger and hurt make this impossible. And increasingly, the family courts exploit this.
As I wrote in my previous post, the average cost of a divorce in the UK is £70,000. And that’s excluding London, where it is nearly double that amount (an eye-watering £134, 525), according to legal firm Seddons.
Much of this (>£50k) is in lost assets (eg splitting property and pensions), but next is legal bills with divorcing couples typically spending between £17,000 and £30,000.
In my case, and we’re not done yet, the costs have already exceeded that amount. But I had little choice.
It is impossible to mediate when one or both divorcing partners are behaving unreasonably and/or lack a fundamental grip on reality. My ex walked out of mediation after less than an hour.
Why the ‘at fault’ process leads to conflict
When married couples decide to divorce “unreasonable behaviour” is usually cited, behaviour that is often linked to mental health issues and addiction.
However, the legal need to prove a spouse’s unreasonable behaviour fuels bad feeling between a couple, according to research by the Nuffield Foundation on behalf of National Family Mediation (NFM).
“Outdated laws that mean someone has to be proved at fault creates a bidding war which then often escalates to a full-blown courtroom battle,” says Jane Robey, NFM’s chief executive.
“This is a huge issue,” she continues. “Over 100,000 couples divorce each year. For each and every adult involved, let alone the children, the stress, time and expense involved is staggering.”
It is when mediation is clearly not an option that the costs really begin to stack up.
In my experience, solicitors fan the flames of discord and anger, sending messages back and forth that are designed to keep you warring (and paying).
In my experience, solicitors fan the flames of discord and anger
During our child arrangements battle the onus was on me to prove that my ex was an alcoholic, despite plenty of evidence – including his own admission to doctors – that he had been a heavy drinker for years.
This necessitated blood and hair strand tests and eventually, the fitting of a Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor (SCRAM) bracelet. All costing thousands of pounds, with each set of evidence minimised and picked apart in court by my ex’s legal team.
In an effort to protect my children I fought for a Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) Section 7 safeguarding report (more on this another time), which again, added significant cost and prolonged the stressful and divisive legal process.
But it was all ultimately in vain. This is what I realise now, looking back. And I hear similar stories from other women (and some men) who have been through similar ordeals.
The fact is that unless your ex is a complete deadbeat the courts will push for a shared care arrangement every time. Under the Children Act the pendulum has swung too far the other way.
Failing children, failing mental health sufferers
The court services are also extremely stretched. Once they’ve ticked the necessary boxes, they just want to arrive at a non-contentious verdict and put the case to bed.
Which does nothing to resolve the underlying problems, to protect children who need protecting or force addicts and individuals suffering from depression and poor mental health to confront their demons and seek help.
I await the usual exchange of heated emails between divorce lawyers… followed by yet another extortionate close-out invoice
I’ve emailed my solicitor letting her know of my actions today and explaining that my children also smelt alcohol on their father’s breath. (It is testament to how badly they have been let down that I needed to explain to my 8-year-old that she must NEVER get into a car with her father if he smells like that).
I would contact Cafcass if I thought it would do any good. It won’t (more on this another time).
Beyond that there is little I can do. So I await the usual exchange of heated emails between divorce lawyers… followed by yet another extortionate close-out invoice at the end of the month.