Western Mail, 3rd March 2011
The wrong kind can halt trains, while the standard variety decimates the sporting calendar and leaves us trapped at home unable to negotiate treacherous roads littered with abandoned cars and jack-knifed HGVs.

But now it seems cars and lorries are not the only things that break down in heavy snow.

Marriages do too – apparently.

Welsh lawyers are claiming the icy blast that kept couples indoors for days at a time in December proved too much for many.

Divorce lawyers say they saw a threefold increase in the number of clients in January that was, at least in part, brought on by the coldest December on record with an average temperature of -1°C.

Solicitor Melanie Hamer said January is traditionally a busy month for divorce lawyers as couples split and look to make a fresh start in the new year.

But she said January was the busiest month since her Cardiff-based firm Wendy Hopkins Family Law Practice was set up in 1996.

She said: “It was incredibly high [the number of clients coming through the doors in January].

“Partly it was the snow in December which meant people couldn’t get out of the house to go and see the solicitor.

“But also when people are cooped up over the holiday period of a week or so they get fed up of being stuck around one another and January is often a busy time anyway.

“But I think that period of being cooped up together and getting cabin fever for a week has been stretched to more like two weeks in December. The numbers we had in January were nearly three times the numbers we had in December.”

The firm saw about 50 new clients in December, compared with 160 in January for “predominantly divorce” cases, says Ms Hamer.

Its website had 1,200 hits in January compared with 700 in December.

Reports dubbed January 10 “divorce day” as lawyers saw their traditional post-Christmas rush in new clients.

Among the theories is that when couples spend extended periods in each other’s company they realise how little they have in common.

Relate Cymru manager Christine Jones said it’s possible that, for many couples, being kept indoors together because of the snow was the final straw.

She said: “There’s an increase over Christmas because people are at home more and I suppose the weather could impact on that as well.

“It could be [due to the weather] because sometimes when people spend increasing time together alone it can affect the relationship.

“We always send tips out on how to survive Christmas because a lot of the family dynamics come to the fore.”

Although snow may have pushed up the divorce rate, the Government is hoping that simply saving money may soon drive it down again.

Justice minister Jonathan Djanogly announced last week that couples will be forced to consider mediation to resolve any disputes before resorting to the courts under a shake-up of the divorce system.

He said people are often too willing to hand over their personal problems for the state to solve and said mediation was “a quicker, cheaper and more amicable alternative.”

All separating couples will have to consider mediation first before turning to the courts to settle disputes from April 6 under a new agreement between judges and the Ministry of Justice.

Mr Djanogly said: “Mediation is a quicker, cheaper and more amicable alternative, particularly where children are concerned.

“Nearly every time I ask someone if their stressful divorce battle through the courts was worth it, their answer is no.

“Mediation already helps thousands of legally-aided people across England and Wales every year, but I am concerned those funding their own court actions are missing out on the benefits it can bring.

“Now everyone will have the opportunity to see if it could be a better solution than going straight to court.”