If there’s one thing I can be certain of, it’s that my phone will ring more often in September than in August.
The weeks following the school summer holidays are always a busy period for Family lawyers like me. It’s a time when people want to start the divorce process. And, just as the beginning of a new calendar year is the incentive some people need to break away from their partner, the end of the summer is seen as another opportune moment.
Why summer? Well, while it’s supposed to be for relaxing and spending quality time with family and friends, it can bring with it significant pressures.
Juggling work and the school holidays
The reality for most families is that childcare over the six or more weeks while children are off school will be challenge. Whether parents work as a tag team, each taking off time to be at home, or there are children’s summer activity camps or babysitting by grandparents to arrange, the logistics can take their toll. And, if you are anything like the many parents I advise, you will probably find it all a little unsatisfactory. Perhaps there’s guilt at being in work instead of taking the children on a day trip. Or perhaps you’re trying to work at home while the children create chaos around you (while still managing to declare their boredom).
And all of these pressures can worsen your relationship with your partner. Frustration, stress, resentment (perhaps you feel they’re getting an easier ride, or more/better quality time with the children) can be destructive. And if there are already some cracks in the relationship, it could lead to things boiling over.
Going away doesn’t necessarily make things easier, either! Thousands of pounds spent on a week in Spain will have seemed an excellent idea when you booked it, but when it’s all over, will you look back on it as an extravagance you couldn’t really afford?
Money worries are a classic source of tension and arguments in families. It’s little wonder, then, that where two people are not on the same page (perhaps one expects the very best hotel, while the other would be happier with a campsite and some money in the bank), things can start to get toxic.
Holidays don’t live up to expectations
Let’s face it, a holiday doesn’t always pan out in the way we anticipated. Hotels have flaws; beaches have jellyfish; it rains. When a couple has saved for what could be their one foreign trip of the year, the disappointment of things not quite meeting their expectations can boil over into rows, blame and – sometimes – the death knell for their relationship.
Children can be hard work
Children may not enjoy the holiday as you expect them to. And they don’t always look like they’ve just stepped out of an area’s promotional leaflet. They’ll be in a new environment – probably a hot one – and they’ll be out of routine. They mightn’t sleep well. They may hate the food. They’ll make applying sun cream an exercise in extreme endurance.
Are you taking the strain while the other parent relaxes with a cold beer or Prosecco? It happens, and it leads to ill feeling that can quickly build over the course of the week.
Not switching off
We all have our own definition of ‘holiday’, and to some people it doesn’t mean switching off altogether. They may be better able to relax once they’ve checked their emails each morning and know that things are in hand. Others take a ‘firmly off-duty’ approach. Either is of course fine – it’s up to you to manage your time and your rest – but problems can arise if one half of a couple becomes frustrated with the amount of time the other spends attending to work, or even on social media. The idea is usually that a family goes on holiday to be together. And when that is compromised by too much attention being given to a phone or a laptop, it can create a divide.
Spending much more time together
Holidays are about being together. But it’s a different type of ‘together’ to the one many couples will have got used to over the months or years. Busy lives mean that parents are often like ships in the night during the week, passing each either while transporting children to swimming, football, dance and all the rest of it. Time in each other’s company may be short and not all that quality-filled. Couples can grow apart.
Suddenly being together all day, every day for a week or more’s holiday can have unexpected consequences. In some cases, it will bring people closer. But in others, there comes a realisation that things are not as they used to be; you no longer get on very well, or you’re happy to spend time with your head in a good book rather than gazing into your partner’s eyes.
The picture I’ve painted may be a bleak one, and of course it is not reflective of the vast number of family holidays that are filled with unbridled joy and memory making. That said, there is without question a pressure that comes with the summer holidays. It might not be a pressure that, by itself, causes a couple to divorce. But it’s quite often the final straw. Most new clients we see in September tell us that their relationship had not been right for some time, but that it was during their summer holiday that their decision to divorce was cemented.
With that in mind, it’s worth going into your holidays with your eyes open. Be realistic in your expectations. Use them as an opportunity to talk and to try building any creaking bridges with your partner. Get to know each other again; you’ve probably both changed in some ways. And reflect. Think about your relationship, your family and your future. A holiday needn’t necessarily break you as a couple. It could be the making of you.
Visit https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p07g2lzj to hear me talking with Kirstie Law on BBC Kent about all things holiday and divorce.