Page last updated at 01:21 GMT, Saturday, 6 December 2008

Downturn 'puts strain on couples'

Wedding rings
Couples were waiting for houses prices to rise before selling, says one lawyer

The economic crisis is straining people's relationships and leading to a steep rise in couples seeking help, a leading counselling service has said.

Relate said it had seen calls jump from nearly 5,000 in October to November last year to more than 7,500 for the same period this year - a rise of 59%.

It said job insecurities and money worries were putting an extra strain on their callers' relationships.

One divorce lawyer said she had seen an "exodus" of people from relationships.

'Very isolating'

Christine Northam, of Relate, said: "The problems are to do with the recession - to do with job insecurity, to do with interest rates changing and also the escalating costs of running the family.

"I think if you're dealing with these anxieties all on your own it can be very isolating, and can lead to depression and anxiety.

"It can impact on the relationship and then that will impact on your children."

Vanessa Lloyd Platt, a leading divorce lawyer, told the BBC that couples who were thinking of splitting may initially have been waiting for the housing market to pick up, so that when they sold their most valuable joint asset, they would not lose as much money.

But Ms Lloyd Platt said now that it was clear the economic downturn was going to last, many people were deciding not to delay a divorce any longer.

She said: "For a while we saw that people were frightened to deal with proceedings, starting to deal with their matrimonial difficulties.

"But now we're seeing a wholesale exodus of people out of the relationships, because they're in for the long haul, they realise they can't wait for the property market to shift."

26-year low

She added that when the housing market does start to move upwards again, the rate of divorce may rise even further.

In August the Office of National Statistics reported the divorce rate for England and Wales fell for the third year running in 2007, to its lowest level for 26 years.

The annual figures showed the divorce rate fell to 11.9 divorces for every 1,000 married couples last year, down from 12.2 divorces in 2006.

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