Ways to address and mitigate the negative impact of divorce proceedings on employees mental and physical health;
The primary tasks of HR departments are to maximise employee productivity and protect the company from any issues that may arise in the workforce. Employees are the most significant single asset to any organisation; good HR helps support employees’ emotional and career needs. It is the centre point for any pastoral care available within the workplace. Employees are, after all, people. They need help weathering mental illness, health issues, debt, pregnancies, adoption, and a myriad of other life occurrences such as, as is the focus of this article, divorce. That is the gap in the well-being services offered by employers, which is left unaddressed. The impact of divorce proceedings on employees needs to be actively explored, understood, and holistically mitigated. An independent divorce support service provided by such as CourtTogether can help.
The financial burden has worsened when considering The Legal Aid and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO 2012), which came into force in 2013. The new legislation on divorce in the workplace has created a shift in how people use and access the family courts. We see a staggering 80% of private family law cases where one party does not have legal representation. Carrying such a heavy responsibility while maintaining a day job can negatively impact concentration, focus, and workload. In addition to influencing people’s mental health and placing a strain on working lives, people’s finances are negatively affected. The recent pandemic has resulted in virtual court hearings with parties left alone, in their homes, without the face-to-face support they would traditionally receive in the traditional court setting. Isolation, along with a strengthened sense of loneliness, is only likely to increase. Those who cannot pay (or do not want to pay expensive solicitor fees) will often be left unilaterally to conduct research, create complex legal arguments, and argue their case in court before a judge, acting as a litigant in person. In Private Family Law cases in 2017/18, only 45% of applicants and 28% of respondents had legal representation. This is showing an increasing trend. Following LASPO, of litigants acting in person; it is a social policy issue that must be revisited by the government so that more individuals can seek the help they need rather than having to deal with these personal and sensitive issues alone.
According to a study by Rayden Solicitors, in April 2021, almost 80% of UK employees struggle to balance divorce with work. The emotional turmoil that centres around the irretrievable breakdown of a long-term relationship, coupled with the often lengthy and expensive court proceedings, inevitably impact an employee’s mental health and, as a result, their ability to work. Moreover, focusing on men, societal perceptions have created an image that it is not “manly” to talk about emotional issues, so they often “suffer in silence.” The number of men suffering from poor mental health or taking their own lives remains stubbornly high. So, emotions are usually kept bottled up and, support is not sought, unlike women who often freely talk about their feelings with friends, family members, and counsellors. These intense and negative emotions may become heightened during the divorce process, especially when children are involved and who need both parents equally. However, it is often the man that is disadvantaged when it comes to child custody issues. Judges historically tend to favour mothers because, on average, they spend more time with their children at home. Covert or subconscious oppressive societal expectations may still place women to maintain ‘traditional’ homemaker roles. This also suggests that it will, more commonly than not, be the man who carries the primary financial burden for the household, which will continue into the divorce process.
Outside of using the regulated legal profession (i.e., solicitors and barristers) is the availability and inside knowledge of the less known ‘McKenzie friends. This group is often professionals, sometimes degree trained, who attend court together with LiPs (Litigant in Person), providing invaluable emotional and legal support. The term “McKenzie friend” comes from a case called McKenzie v McKenzie in 1970, where the court decided that an unrepresented party should be allowed to have a friend in court who was supporting him. McKenzie friends are on the rise and can help navigate individuals through the court process. Traditionally, these people have been family members and friends, but today many private individuals offer this service as a full-time business.
CourtTogether is one of these organisations. As a McKenzie friend, CourtTogether has a legal duty to maintain case and data confidentiality. They are most likely to be privileged to personal and emotional court documents.
Regarding divorce in the workplace, CourtTogether acts as both McKenzie friend and divorce coach. We address the unmet needs that employees often require from HR and deliver them. Although corporations often have services that grant access to legal advice and counselling, it will usually be a fellow layperson needed as a dividing line who can understand the emotional, physical, and financial impact that divorce can have on employees. Ultimately, employees want somebody who has gone through similar experiences with whom they can relate personally and can help them on a day-to-day practical level throughout the legal process. Often, it is as simple as having someone to ‘vent’ to during working hours. Someone they can leave their worries with and help them re-focus on the task at hand. Divorce can be all-consuming unless you have that dedicated person to reassure you everything will turn out just fine.
At CourtTogether, we are experienced and established McKenzie friends, at affordable rates, who understand and can provide this unmet need. We are not just McKenzie friends but personal coaches who empower clients with the knowledge they need to understand the process. We involve the client at every step of the way. Together we design tailor-made plans to rebuild employees’ life after divorce. Establishing a new sense of identity and offering them new goals to create a better emotional life is crucial. We understand that “divorce grief” is genuine and powerful. It can be comparable to the death of a loved one; you are suffering the loss of a marriage and all that comes with it. Outside the court process, we can help you recognise that your marriage is over, promote excellent self-care, help you feel your feelings, and empower you in using your feelings as a tool for personal growth.