Item from the Smart Marriages Archive, reproduced in the Divorce Statistics Collection

Lawyers can't cope as divorce epidemic sweeps UK
Couples are rushing to find a new life in the new year, writes Hero Brown

9 January 2000

An outbreak of "matrimonial millennium madness" has led one of Britain's
leading divorce lawyers to refuse to take on any new clients. The number
of
couples splitting up has reached such huge proportions that matrimonial
law
specialists Lloyd Platts & Co has had to turn people away.

Last week saw an end to many a celebrity relationship as Spice Girl Mel G
separated from husband, Jimmy Gulzar, Jade Jagger split from boyfriend,
Dan
Macmillan, Ted Turner and Jane Fonda announced their separation (on CNN,
of
course), and Labour MP Peter Hain called it a day with his wife of 25
years,
Pat. But according to Vanessa Lloyd Platts, whose clients include Anne
Diamond and the former Lady Buck, the celebs are part of a broader
picture.

"Naturally, there was a huge glut of people who came to see us before the
New Year because they were desperate to start the new millennium free and
independent," says Ms Lloyd Platt. "But we should be under no illusions
that
this was a millennial one-off. We're talking about a progressive trend
here
and frankly, if couples continue to separate at the current rate, there
won't be anybody left to divorce in 10 years. When we started work again
last week we experienced another huge rush of people, all anxious to start
divorce proceedings. We had to turn people away ."

These are not words likely to fuel the confidence of Catherine Zeta Jones,
30, the Welsh actress who last week became engaged to veteran Hollywood
star
Michael Douglas, 55. After months of media speculation, Ms Zeta Jones has
agreed to sign a pre-nuptial agreement which prevents her claiming any
part
of Douglas's fortune in the event of the union turning sour.

Modern statistics on marriage make gruesome reading. The divorce rate in
the
United Kingdom is now nearly one per two marriages, and marriage itself is
in decline. There were 352,000 weddings in England and Wales in 1987
compared with 273,000 in 1997.

Couples are choosing to cohabit, but the latest statistics show that
cohabiting couples with children have even less chance of staying together
than the marrieds: more than half will split up by the time their child is
five compared with eight per cent of married couples.

More disturbing still is the idea that many couples seem disinclined to
fight to stay together. "People are definitely more philosophical about
relationships now," confirms Relate counsellor Lucy Selleck "and the truth
is that, while there is much more pressure on couples today through lack
of
time, role confusion and so on, people don't seem to be as desperate as
they
have been in the past to stay together. We still have plenty of people
coming to see us, of course, but there has been a marked rise in the
number
of single people (from 32 to 37 per cent from 1997-8 to 1998-9) talking to
us on their own; those, for example, who have experienced continual
breakdown in their relationships and want to know what they're doing
wrong."

Significantly single male attendance at Relate has shot up from 13 to 31
per
cent between 1997-1998 to 1998-1999, an increase that Ms Selleck claims
has
been encouraged by the confusion of roles, as women continue to encroach
on
traditional male territory in the office and home. This is borne out by
the
research from the British Psychological Society brought out last week
which
claimed that men whose wives have careers are more likely to feel worried
and depressed.

Not everyone is impressed with the Society's findings, however. "There are
many stresses and strains in modern life and we can't go around blaming
women for them all," claims feminist writer Natasha Walter. "Women's
growing
independence doesn't mean more lonely, unhappy people. What it means is
that
people don't want to put up with second best any more. Marriage isn't
keeping up with the way we conduct our relationships and what I see much
more of is that a lot of men and women are looking for love but not
necessarily within the old framework of one partner for life."

This fits with a report from think-tank Demos in which Helen Wilkinson
suggests introducing marriage contracts with a time limit - five, or 10
years, for example. Given the number of celebrity relationships over
Christmas that barely made it over the year mark Ms Wilkinson's contract
for
wedded bliss may seem ambitious .

Certainly Natasha Walter would prefer the old-fashioned approach to
matchmaking. "People analyse things too much," she says, "We're losing the
spontaneity, what people used to call love. There's so much baggage we're
encouraged to carry. If I had my way, I'd tell people to stop reading the
self-help books, drop the counsellors, and follow their heart." Just
remember to sign the pre-nup first.


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