CASE ONE: MARTIN AND KATE

Martin, 29, a middle manager, and Kate, 26, a civil servant, divorced four months ago. They were married four years and have no children.

KATE: I still think that Martin's a nice guy, and we both wanted things to work, but we were too young. He was only my second boyfriend and when we got married I didn't think ahead. Just a couple of years into the marriage I got itchy feet and I had an affair with a guy at work. I felt bad for Martin but I don't really think it was wrong. We had been growing apart for some time and it was going to happen to one of us sooner or later.

I didn't tell Martin at first. I didn't know what to do; I was just aware that I was losing interest in the relationship. Eventually he confronted me. I admitted it straight away. I didn't want to lie.

He was hurt but it was more his ego than anything. I knew that he didn't feel the same way for me anymore and I said that we should get a divorce. He wasn't keen. He wanted us to go to Relate and try and patch things up. He reckoned we hadn't really given it our best shot. I went along but it was pointless because once I've made up my mind on something, that's it. Martin kept saying 'We can make it work' and I kept saying 'It's over.' I was named as the guilty party which I was quite content with because I didn't want anything from him. We sold the flat and divided it 50-50, which was what we'd put in.

MARTIN: Kate and I have stayed friends after our divorce, probably because it was all so low-key. That's good in the long run, but it was rather shocking to me that marriage could be abandoned so easily. When I found out Kate was having an affair I was temporarily devastated. Kate maintained that it was inevitable, but it certainly hadn't occurred to me. However, when we went to a counsellor, Kate said things that made it obvious she was not at all interested in making the marriage work. I was very miserable for a while and I couldn't talk to her. Everything was done through the solicitor and I just agreed to everything. Everything was worked out very fairly, I didn't lose out. Kate and I go out for drinks occasionally. We take an interest in each other's love lives. We're almost brother and sister about it. The fact that we were married at all seems more and more dreamlike.

he 'was always drinking with his mates', she was 'impossible'

CASE TWO: MAGGIE AND STEVE

Steve, 35, a travel agent, and Maggie, 29, divorced last year. They were married five years and have two children, aged four and three.

MAGGIE: The first couple of years of my marriage were OK. Steve never pulled his weight, though. Once the kids arrived he grew resentful of their taking of his time. He just wasn't interested in them, yet it was him who was insistent that we had them in the first place. It was proof of his manhood.

He drank a lot and he went out with his friends whenever he felt like it without telling me. I did all the housework and I had to get a part- time job in a pub because of the debts he ran up, when we had agreed that I was going to stay at home with the kids and do a degree by correspondence. I told him I couldn't put up with it and he'd make a token gesture at changing but it wouldn't mean much. He thought nothing of being drunk in front of the kids and he grew more verbally violent.

When I made up my mind I wanted a divorce, I had thought a lot about it and I was convinced it was the only thing to do. I didn't give up easily but I knew that the man I married just wasn't there and he wasn't coming back. We married too hastily. Perhaps if we'd lived together he would have shown his ugly side sooner, I don't know. Anyway, I told him one Saturday morning after a huge row on the Friday night when he bowled in after midnight, drunk, when he'd promised me that he'd be home before eight. He said: "Fine - but you won't get a penny from me."

He didn't give a damn about the emotional side of it, it was the money. I felt desolate. He'd obviously never loved me. I felt utterly alone. I couldn't talk to my family about it - they'd never liked Steve anyway. For six months he stayed in the house.He was terrified he would lose it if he didn't. It was hell - the violent rows were actually better than the silences.

The divorce took a couple of days in the courts, when we had to trawl through the details of our lives so that the judge could sort out who had what. Thank God he realised that Steve was an awkward bugger. He gave me the house to bring the children up in. He said Steve should pay pounds 300 a month maintenance.

He has hardly paid a penny towards the children. I have referred him to the CSA and we are in a queue waiting to be dealt with. Meanwhile he gets away without paying. He knows how difficult it is for me to ring and hassle him and he plays on that.

I'm not going to beg from him, I have my own job and I cope even if we can't have a holiday this year - I hear he took his new girlfriend to Italy. Meanwhile his children need new shoes.

STEVE: Maggie was impossible. She demanded perfection. I felt myself being ground down; after five years I was a shadow of my former self. When she asked for a divorce I was astonished. I thought: "If I can put up with this, what's your problem?" Maggie always likes to see herself as a victim, so someone has to be the villain. She's such a hysteric that inevitably all our dirty linen got dragged through the divorce courts. She contested everything, the money, the children - I think she saw it as her 15 minutes of fame. I couldn't believe the things I was hearing about myself in court - that I was frequently drunk and abusive. It just was not true - ask my current girlfriend. Yes I go out with the lads sometimes, but at the end of the night I'm always the guy with the car keys who had half a shandy.

I wouldn't wish anyone to go through what we did. Frankly, Maggie was so set on her victim story, no amount of couple counselling would have persuaded her that it takes two to break down a marriage. I feel the judicial system blames men. I don't see the point in blame, I think it's best just to work it out. Maggie won custody, which I was fine with. Of course I miss the kids, but she had been at home with them. They're better off with their mother.

I admit I've not kept up with the maintenance, but frankly, I can't afford it. As for the holiday in France (not Italy), my girlfriend paid for it. Maggie won't let me see the kids anyway. I don't feel I can force it when I haven't got the money for the maintenance and I know that she does her best to tell the kids what a bastard I am.

they grew apart and wanted to do the best for the children

CASE THREE: MICHAEL AND JANE

Michael, 35, a publisher, and Jane, 32, a veterinary nurse, divorced a year ago. They were married for eight years and have three children, aged nine, eight and six.

MICHAEL: When it was obvious that the marriage wouldn't work, what we were determined to do was make sure the kids didn't come out of it too badly. My parents divorced when I was eight and it affected my confidence very badly. I didn't want any child of mine to go through that.

Why did the marriage break down? It's hard to pin it down to any one thing, we just grew apart. It just became obvious that we had more fun separately. We both found excuses to avoid spending time alone together, we bickered all the time, we stopped laughing and our physical relationship deteriorated. I actually lost interest in sex until I realised that it was just sex with my wife that I wasn't interested in.

We knew we had to get a divorce when Jodie, our eldest girl, was behaving badly at school. Her teacher asked if there were problems at home. We went back home and had a proper talk about the situation - the first time we had confronted our problems. We talked all night about what had happened to us and at the end we had decided that was it. Some people might say we should have struggled on, but we realised that everybody would be happier apart and, while it might be disruptive initially, the kids would be better off in the long run.

We went for irreconcilable differences. Our solicitor was very supportive. When the decision had been made it was such a relief that the atmosphere in the house actually cheered up a lot.

We tried to keep the kids informed, that Mum and Dad would be living in different places but that they would still see both of us. They would be living with their Mum, which, because the three of them were so young at the time, was the obvious decision. They were confused, but Jodie's behaviour improved once we started letting her know what was going on.

Jane and I made a pact not to even start thinking about other relationships until we'd sorted the whole thing out. It took just a few months to organise things. There was no contention. If either of us thought the other was being unreasonable, we kept quiet. It just wasn't worth getting embroiled. We sold the house and set Jane and the kids up in a cheaper place. I got a rather crummy flat. I still pay for Jane's mortgage and maintenance on top of that. I'm a lot less well off, but I don't feel bitterness at all.

I don't regret the fact that we got divorced. We had several good years and I have three terrific kids, who I'm trying not to mess up. Since the divorce came through a year ago, I've met a girl who is very good for me. But I'm taking it slowly. I can't afford to rush into it all again.

JANE: It's a galling thing to admit that your marriage has failed. In fact I know people who don't call divorce failure anymore. They say that they never expected their marriage to be for life, so it is just the end of the line. I concede that my marriage was a failure. I don't think it's good for children to go through that, living in an atmosphere. I never actually hated Michael, but the passion fizzled out. When that happens, all the niggly things that you would overlook if you were in love get to you and you just grow to resent the other person.

It took us a while to admit that we ought to call it a day. I was afraid of what people were going to say - we had had such a big do for the wedding, I felt very foolish. But when we realised that Jodie was being affected by the tension and the endless silly rows, we both realised that something had to be done.

I think my handling of the situation was the most mature thing I've ever done. It would have been easy to resort to hysterics. I never cried in front of the children. We went to the solicitor and talked it through as calmly as if we were booking a holiday, discussing the options. Michael couldn't have been more generous. He gives us far more than he has to. We're both a lot less well off financially, but I have to say that I'm emotionally a hell of a lot happier. He hasn't got enough room for all three kids at one sitting so we divide them up most weekends and he'll have one of them during the week. We found places just round the corner from each other so it's the easiest thing in the world.

Maybe it works because we don't love each other anymore. I think some couples still have a love/ hate relationship. I just feel pretty numb about Michael. I'm single still - I just don't have time to meet men. I'm looking for full-time work at the moment. I can't see me getting married again, though. It's too much hassle and I just don't see how you can possibly know how you're going to feel in the future.

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