IF you believe the hype, Christmas is a time of peace and family harmony – and for some lucky folk it is. But for many the reality is arguments, traumatised children and a longing for it all to be over so divorce proceedings can ensue.

A crack in a couple’s relationship before Christmas will often become an aching chasm even before the turkey leftovers have been fried up. For the festive season has a way of heightening emotion and compounding past regrets.

If there is a need to part, many are deterred because of cost and with the Government banning legal aid from March this year for hard-up couples seeking divorce – apart from a ‘loophole’ relating to domestic violence – it’s hard to know where to turn.

Blackburn-based Forbes solicitor Gill Carr, who is spokesperson for Resolution in Lancashire, says: “Christmas can put a real stress on relationships. For those couples who are going through a separation, it can often be made less stressful and more financially manageable by exploring all the options available.”

“Whilst for some couples court is unavoidable, for many more there are alternatives such as family mediation, family arbitration and the collaborative process. Resolution members are committed to helping couples going through break-ups to do so in the least stressful way possible, in order to help make future Christmases easier for all.”

While there will always be disgruntled spouses who are determined to take their partners to the cleaners, increasing numbers of couples – perhaps as a result of the lengthy recession – simply don't have the appetite for a drawn-out fight.

An interesting consequence is the increase in demand for ‘collaborative’ divorce processes – an innovative approach from in the USA whereby a legal agreement is made by both parties at the outset that the dispute cannot proceed to court, forcing an agreement to be reached through round-the-table talks.

While this approach tends to appeal to those couples with more straightforward cases to settle, it has been used to find solutions to highly emotive issues around finances, property and even access to children.

Tony Wood, of Blackburn law company Hardman Wood, is both a lawyer and mediator for Red Rose Mediation. He says: “Divorce does not have to be devastating and there are options available other than going to court.

“Whilst legal aid is no longer available for divorces, it is for mediation and for those satisfying the criteria the bonus is that they can obtain free advice from their solicitors.”

Mediation is also markedly cheaper - the average cost to resolve a case is around £500 as opposed to thousands if a case goes to court.

“Mediation used to be a second thought in divorce cases,” says Tony. “But now it’s a couple’s first port of call.”

Resolution is launching a new advice guide for divorcing couples. Download it at www.resolution. org.uk/separatingtogether