Sheela Mackintosh: The gasping need for marriage information services
Sheela Mackintosh is a former family lawyer who has set up a unique information service for couples contemplating divorce. She was a co-author of Every Family Matters, the report produced by the Centre for Social Justice in July, and is on the approved list of Conservative parliamentary candidates.
Family life in Britain today is in a state of meltdown. This is clearly borne out by much research carried out in the recent Centre for Social Justice Report, Every Family Matters, which I co-authored with a brilliant team of experts looking at ways to strengthen our national family life.
The report found a deep seated culture of family relationship breakdown with an immense cost to everyone in society; for individuals, families, employers, communities and, most sadly, our children. The financial cost of relationship breakdown to our country is estimated at a staggering sum of nearly £40 billion. This equates to at least £1,000 for every taxpayer. We simply cannot afford this to continue.
The report came up with 131 recommendations on all areas of family life, a holistic and comprehensive set of reforms to improve family life. They recommendations can be found online here.
The recommendation closest to my heart is the provision of vital information before and during marriages and at the point of marriage breakdown. Why? Because I am a family lawyer on a crusade to reduce divorce in our country. So I founded and today run a unique information provision service. It is used by individuals and couples facing the possibility of divorce or separation.
It assists them to make properly informed choices about their next steps. It gives them the opportunity to gather vital information and knowledge, to fully understand the financial, legal, practical, emotional and human impact of divorce on themselves, their children and their wider family.
It gives them the information to decide whether divorce is in fact the correct route to take. If divorce ultimately proves unavoidable, I help them by reducing the friction and costs involved; I operate on a ‘harmony in break up’ basis.
This valuable information service should be the first port of call, the default position for any couple in an unhappy relationship. It must be an alternative to using divorce lawyers in the first instance, who have become regarded as legal undertakers raking over the carcass of a broken marriage.
Yet, as so often portrayed in numerous Hollywood films, the emphasis is about falling in love, finding Mr or Mrs Right and living a ‘happy ever after’ life post-marriage. The reality is that marriages are hard work (I believe harder than any job that any of us do in our ‘working lives’) with huge life-satisfaction expectations riding on it by both parties. However couples are sadly often ill-equipped to know and understand how to sustain a happy marriage or how to deal with crisis points in a marriage. There is so little good information available on the subject.
Unhappy relationships contribute so much to society’s ills and poverty For this reason we need to do much more to support families during marriages including helping them with parenting, surely one of the greatest challenges in modern marriages. In my experience of doing my work, many modern couples have so little idea how to parent well.
My information service should be a blueprint for similar services across the country. The long term costs savings will be huge, both in direct financial terms and indirect benefits. By rolling out such services across the country we will undoubtedly be investing a huge amount in our families and informing parents how to be better role models for our children. We will thereby help fix our ‘broken society’.
Next spring our country will be electing a bold, brave new Government who are determined to change our country for the better. All of us supporting family life hugely applaud David Cameron and his team for understanding that our children’s wellbeing lie at the heart of our society and country as his new Government will clearly be putting much focus on family life.