DWP to offer new support for separating couples

This month is the worst for struggling couples but a new initiative aims to ease the pain, reports Simon Read

January is traditionally the busiest month for divorces, with twice as many couples splitting up as in September – the second most ill-starred month. Meanwhile the Department for Work and Pensions reports that it gets twice as many calls about child maintenance in January as in any other month.

However, couples whose relationship breaks down are now to be offered government support to help them cope with the strains and financial difficulties of separation.

The Pensions Minister, Steve Webb, said: "Break-ups can be tough, and when couples do split up we want to ensure that children and families get the help they need."

The DWP has earmarked £10m for projects that aim to assist couples in working together as parents even when they are no longer together.

"It includes free help for low-income couples from legal experts, parenting skills for teenage mums and dads, and fathers who have no contact with their children," explained Mr Webb.

Crucially, the DWP has recruited leading relationship charities to the project and both have set up online sites offering free guidance.

Relate, which normally works with couples to try and get them through their troubles, offers virtual chats with counsellors at www.relate.org.uk/whatnext.

"There are steps that families can take to minimise the long-term effects of separation, and our counsellors can help parents with that," said Ruth Sunderland, chief executive of Relate.

Meanwhile, at www.splittingup-putkidsfirst.org.uk, the charity OnePlusOne hopes to persuade separating parents to think about arrangements, share ideas and record decisions. "[They] can become entrenched in their positions," pointed out Penny Mansfield, director of OnePlusOne. "We want to encourage then to think about new childcare needs before it becomes too difficult."

Additionally, the DWP has a web app – at www.cmoptions.org/en/sortingoutseparation/ – that offers assistance on finances, housing and health. For instance it has a calculator to help people agree on any amount to be paid or received in child maintenance.

Ten more projects, including in rural areas, will start later this year to help couples resolve grievances. They will be based on the work of leading psychologists, and relationship support for Islamic couples will also be offered.

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