NEW Year is often a time of reflection, when people make decisions to change areas of their lives they are unhappy with.

The festive period is traditionally a season when we spend time with partners and families, and while for many it may be filled with love and laughter, for others it can be pure misery.

Tensions over money are raised and obligatory time with in-laws can cause arguments, whilst irritating habits are exacerbated and loneliness through a lack of togetherness can be magnified.

Add additional alcohol and general strains of family life, it’s no wonder that more people come to the realisation that their marriage is over during the festive period than any other time of the year.

Carol-Anne Baker is a specialist family solicitor with Bridge Law Solicitors in West Yorkshire, and typically sees a big rise in people wanting to divorce at the start of the year. With over 40per cent of marriages expected to fail in the UK, every month is busy, but January and February hit a peak.

“Already unhappy couples often put off divorce until after Christmas, but the festive period seems to amplify people’s differences, coupled with the New Year,” says Baker. “It could be down to the unreasonable behaviour, unfaithfulness, domestic abuse, which can increase during the festive season, or that the couple no longer get along. It’s important that both parties seek professional legal advice.

“You must be married for more than a year to divorce and your marriage must be legally recognised in England and Wales. Some marriage ceremonies that take place overseas may not amount to a marriage in this country at all.”

Irretrievable breakdown, in itself, doesn’t entitle you to divorce. Although there is pressure for a change in the law to a ‘no fault’ system, at present you must prove one of five facts - Adultery; Unreasonable Behaviour; Desertion; Two years’ separation, with the consent of your spouse; Five years’ separation. The person who petitions will have to pay the court fee and any legal costs, but may claim some or all costs back from the other party. “There is often some level of acrimony, but it’s important to minimise the effect on the children,” says Baker. “Each party will retain parental responsibility and have a right to have a say in important decisions relating to 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 be complicating factors, which mean 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 these circumstances, urgent advice is needed. If one of the parties has been subjected to domestic abuse and there are ongoing issues, they may also need help to apply for a Non-molestation Order to protect them form further violence or harassment. There are so many things to consider, even before the financial arrangements are ironed out.

“When you divorce, you should ensure you are legally financially separated from your spouse. You may be able to agree how your finances are to be split between you, it’s important to have this properly recorded in a Court Order alongside the divorce, so that either party cannot make financial claims against each other in years to come.

“If you’re unable to reach an agreement over issues such as whether the family home should be sold, you should seek professional help. Without being properly informed you are likely to find yourself at a significant disadvantage.

“Until you’re finally divorced, you remain each other’s next of kin if you haven’t made a will. If you have a will that leaves everything to your partner in the event of your death, you may wish to change it so that your children or others benefit, instead.

“Getting divorced is not easy and it’s hard to deal with everything when emotions run high. Advice from a specialist family solicitor can help to give an objective, properly-informed view as to how best try to deal with your situation. With professional support, you will eventually be able to move on.”

* Contact Carol-Anne Baker at Bridge Law Solicitors on 01484 442700 or visit

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