Stephanie Smith: Happy Divorce Day ... but be careful what you wish for

Congratulations to all married couples who manage to survive Divorce Day. That's the first working day back after New Year, apparently, and lawyers have been bracing themselves (or rubbing their hands in glee) for the expected annual rush of those seeking to untie the knot.

Amanda Abbington and Martin Freeman play husband and wife John and Mary Watson in Sherlock, which is back on BBC1 on Sunday nights. The couple announced their real-life split last month, saying that is "very amicable" and showing all couples, married or not, that it is possible to achieve a discreet, dignified and friendly separation. Picture courtesy of the BBC.

Every year, solicitors report an onslaught of divorce inquiries after the festive season. There are various theories as to why. Maybe couples forced to spend time together realise they can’t stand each other for one nano-second longer? Perhaps the strain of debt and endless potato peeling have combined to become the proverbial final straw? Or, it could be because infidelity has come to light over the turkey, with affairs more likely to be revealed at Christmas, thanks to “miss you” phone calls and texts, and philanderers letting down their guard and becoming less assiduous about deleting the evidence.

On a more practical note, some unhappy spouses decide to delay the start of separation proceedings until after Christmas, for time-pressure reasons and so they can keep loved ones in blissful ignorance, at least until the decorations come down. For others, it’s actually a New Year’s Resolution, a need to start again, quite possibly as a result of reflection and discussion with friends and family over the festive period (so choose your words carefully if consulted).

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Whatever the reason, the festive season is a catalyst and turning point for many couples, and it’s particularly sad when only one spouse wants to end the marriage. Those who have survived divorce can confirm that it is one of the most painful experiences of life, and one which causes you to lose faith in everything you thought you understood, and almost everyone you thought you knew.

Like marriage, divorce is an estate not to be entered into “unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly” ... and in the fear of solicitors, who must be selected with extreme caution and care. While many are undoubtedly sensible, fair, realistic, perceptive and upright, I know many divorcees who deeply regret finding a solicitor in haste. They believe that uncaring lawyers grabbed their misery and instantly made matters much worse, by encouraging exaggeration, misrepresentation, spite, bitterness and greed. After which, there was no way of achieving any kind of civilised break-up, let alone a rethink of whether or not the divorce was actually wanted. As for the cost ...

If divorce is the only way, then it must be so. But don’t be encouraged by “divorce January” promotion. And always be careful what you wish for.