South Wales Echo, 2nd August 2011

The relationship has ended, you’re both angry and hurt. How can you split up in the best possible way? Abbie Wightwick asks the experts

This year alone 10 in every thousand marriages in England and Wales will end in divorce and many more cohabiting couples will separate.

When the worst happens in a relationship some people decide there’s no alternative to splitting up.

But, if the worst comes to the worse, breaking up can still be managed in a civilised fashion.

Experts say couples should seek help and advice before making any final, life changing decisions.

Lawyers, Relate, counsellors and others offer guidance on dividing assets and child care.

Ending a relationship doesn’t mean you have to have an acrimonious divorce involving lengthy, costly court cases.

New moves by courts and lawyers to encourage couples to seek mediation rather than battle it out, have made things better for couples and their children.

Splitting couples must always seek legal help to know their rights, says Thea Hughes, partner at Wendy Hopkins Family Law Practice in Cardiff.

This doesn’t mean they have to battle in court, says Hughes, who is chair of Collaborative Lawyers in Wales, an organisation which helps divorcing couples avoid court through a new non-confrontational legal process.

“People have in their mind the traditional court route which can be extremely acrimonious and costly and just push people further apart,” she warns.

“It’s always a good idea to look at other options.

“There is a push for couples to consider other options. The Collaborative Process, where you don’t go to court to sort things out but where couples work out themselves what is best for them, is one route.

In the Collaborative Process you’re linking with your former partner and solicitors but you won’t go to court, you sit around the table to sort out difficulties.

“It means the individuals have more control and things don’t spiral out of control.”

Hughes suggests couples contact Resolution, a national organisation of lawyers who deal with family issues without taking them to court.

“I would love to see less divorce through the courts and more through the collaborative route,” Hughes says.

“In the collaborative route we put the paperwork into court but you’re not using the court in an adversarial way.

“The courts now expect people who are issuing proceedings to have thought about mediation and if not why not?”

Couples should seek advice early on, she advises. Once one partner has moved out it may be hard to pick up the pieces, Hughes, who has dealt with hundreds of divorces and separations, warns.

“People still need advice from a lawyer about their rights. It’s always important to get legal advice because there’s an awful lot to the law that people won’t know.

“For instance, people are convinced there are Common Law rights. There are not. You are looking at the law of trust when looking at these cases.”