Marriage break-ups are frequently followed by a collapse in mental health for divorced wives and husbands, lawyers said yesterday.
They warned that symptoms ranging from high stress to severe depression frequently strike couples engaged in divorce.
In some cases the impact of divorce can contribute to deep problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder or the onset of suicidal thoughts, lawyers at the Hall Brown Family Law firm said.
Parents getting divorced can cause mental health problems in children, a new study has found
The alarm over mental health and divorce adds to long-established evidence of the damaging impact on couples whose marriages end.
Alongside the financial problems routinely associated with divorce, men and women who go through it can suffer health problems, and their children are likely to do worse at school than others.
Katie Dillon, of Hall Brown, said evidence from clients of the firm, which handles 360 divorces each year, showed that mental health problems appeared to be a result of the ending of the marriage and were not helped by a smooth or amicable divorce process.
The likelihood of mental health problems, she said, was not confined to marriage break-ups considered to be ‘problematic’.
Miss Dillon said: ‘The end of a marriage can be a very stressful period, no matter if it’s handled amicably, as the majority usually are.
‘That stress can manifest itself in different ways. In the last year or so, noticeably more cases in which we’ve been involved have featured one or both spouses reporting some degree of mental health problems at the very start of the divorce.
Children whose parents are going through divorce were found to be likely to do worse than others in school
‘In fact, it’s now a feature of a considerable number of cases which we deal with and involves a wide range of difficulties from anxiety and stress right through to thinking about suicide.’
The new indicator of the link between divorce and mental health problems comes at a time when ministers are proposing sweeping new divorce reforms which are designed to allow divorce at the request of just one of the marriage partners, and remove the idea of fault from marriage law.
The changes will mean an end to allegations of adultery or unreasonable behaviour, and remove the requirement for a five-year wait for divorce when no fault is alleged and one partner opposes the divorce.
Ministers say no-fault divorce will reduce conflict in a marriage break-up, which they say is especially damaging to children.
However they have acknowledged that the reform will bring an increase in numbers of divorces, which have been falling steadily in recent years.
There were just over 100,000 a year in England and Wales, down from over 150,000 in the 1990s, and divorce rates are at their lowest since the early 1970s.
Miss Dillon said: ‘Counselling is something which we already suggest to every single client – even those who don’t report problems of their own – because we feel that going through a divorce with a lawyer alone is like having an operation with only a surgeon in the operating theatre.
‘We do what we can but it’s my firm belief that individuals need a broader support network of family, friends and counsellors to help them manage through what can be a difficult time.’
She added: ‘The collapse of a marriage can not only take its toll on husbands and wives but children too, as experts such as the Royal Society of Psychiatrists have documented.
‘That’s one reason why we are keen for the entire family to be supported through the divorce process in order to minimise the potential for marital breakdown to have lasting impact.’