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Watch out! It’s divorce day

January 8th, 2007

Dr Petra

According to ‘research’ in the press today is the most likely day for couples to initiate divorce proceedings.

Now we’ve had days when we’ll be the happiest and saddest as PR stunts, but apparently today is the one specific date in the calendar when people want to end marriages.

The research is to promote the launch of a company – insidedivorce.com who, according to their website, are an organisation that “provides you with information, guidance and support to help you through the divorce process. Whether you are thinking about splitting up, are in the process, or are moving on from divorce InsideDivorce.com is here to give you the advice you need. With regularly updated news and features, and a full UK search directory of need-to-know contacts, from legal firms to lifestyle services (such as counsellors, health clubs and style experts) to help you build a new life”.

Okay, so they provide you with information and get cash from those advertising their services on their site (the lawyers, counsellors, health clubs and style experts).

Clearly they want your business so what better way than to run a ‘survey’ (or something approximating it). Which of course stacks of papers gave lots of coverage to – most simply regurgitating the press release sent by the website.

The first part of their ‘research’ claims to have carried out a survey of 100 lawyers who said that Christmas was often the final nail in the marital coffin, leading to a surge in the number of people instructing solicitors in the new year”. They weren’t specifically saying all their clients turned up today, but the press release and coverage claimed this anyway. To get accurate information on divorce proceedings a survey of 100 lawyers (or even 100 law firms) isn’t good enough, you’d need a specific audit of law firms across the UK to identify peaks in people requesting divorce information.

However, that’s not all the company had to offer they also seemed to have surveyed an additional 2000 people who were married, divorced and separated and showed nearly 1/5 were on the brink of splitting up and 1 in 10 no longer had sex. Which is weird since those who were separated and divorced were already way past the brink of splitting up. Does this mean 1/5 of those still married wanted to split up or all the respondents? Also lots of couples don’t have sex but it doesn’t mean this is a permanent situation or one that automatically causes divorce, and it might be those who are separated or divorced aren’t having sex because of a lack of a partner or because they don’t feel like it. The data just doesn’t make sense.

Crucial data to help people understand the research was left out in all press coverage (and presumably the press release) so we don’t know exactly how respondents were recruited (e.g. online or by phone from a market research company). We don’t know how many of the 2000 respondents were female or male, or married, single, separated or divorced. We don’t even know if 2000 were really studied or whether 500 were surveyed and the data manipulated (a common practice in PR research).

We were told the main reasons for seeking a divorce – infidelity, falling out of love, or abuse. Although not having sex was apparently the biggest factor in relationship breakdown – more than the other categories above. Jumping way beyond the data (in a frantic attempt to get some media coverage) a company representative said “It is worrying that sex – not having it or having it with someone other than your partner – is the main catalyst for divorce. It suggests we are no longer satisfied with having one partner in life.”

It’s worrying when you can’t interpret your data and assume that people not having sex and being unhappy about that automatically assumes we’re no longer satisfied with having one partner. It’s particularly strange to say that given so few people in the West have one life partner nowadays. And are we really meant to believe that not having sex is a bigger cause of divorce than being battered by a partner, mental cruelty, neglect or changing views on a relationship?

In a further massive leap from the data presented in the press coverage we’re also told the research confirms the ‘seven year itch’ – that couples want to split up after seven years together. How this was measured by a survey isn’t clear but all the papers presented the information without question.

So far, so dull. This isn’t really telling us anything that relationship counsellors and others haven’t known for years. The Christmas period often brings to a head relationship problems and leads to people considering divorce, separation or relationship therapy.

What is most worrying about this research (and the media’s uncritical coverage) is the claim that children were also included in the study. 341 children were interviewed about divorce had affected them. It isn’t made clear how these children were interviewed, who by, what their ages were, how the sensitive and potentially distressing topic of divorce was handled, what support the children were offered, and what permission the researchers had to interview them. If you want to interview anyone under 16 you have to have parental permission and approval from an ethics committee. Ask yourself, would you trust a legal team who seem happy to conduct research that isn’t ethical on vulnerable participants?

In fact, this research doesn’t really prove anything about divorce at all. Whilst there may be an increase in people seeking legal advice about their marriages in the new year this research doesn’t prove today is the most likely day for this to occur. And it doesn’t prove that relationships all end as a result of seeking legal advice. Whilst some might end in divorce others may well end in temporary separation, relationship counselling, or a couple ironing out their difficulties together.

There are plenty of places you can get legal advice and support. But I’d question taking such advice from an organisation that doesn’t understand data and misrepresents divorce information just to get you to sign up to their website.

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