Rich men are rushing to get divorced as the worsening economic situation forces them to reassess their married lives, leading divorce lawyers and marriage therapists say.
Unprecedented numbers of men who have either been made redundant, or fear their jobs may go, are suddenly splitting from their partners because they know they will likely be asked to pay out smaller settlements if they are no longer earning big money.
Others going through marriage breakdowns are being forced to continue living with their estranged partners as the property market crash means they cannot sell their houses. Some women are even trying to make sure they divorce their partners before the credit crunch bites to save their homes from the debt collectors.
Vanessa Lloyd-Platt, a leading divorce lawyer, said her firm had been inundated this year by clients who were desperate to get a divorce, many citing the recession as a reason. "January and February are normally busy times for divorce lawyers but I've never seen anything like this," she said. "We've come across so many cases where husbands have simply disappeared after Christmas, then resurfaced wanting a divorce. Many have been made redundant and want to rush through a divorce before they get a new job so they might not have to pay out as much. We are seeing an epidemic of that."
Recessions often herald as many tumultuous social changes as financial ones. This time, the effect on Britain's marriages could be profound. One in four children in Britain already have divorced parents but the number of splits could rocket as marriages buckle under financial pressure.
"We're seeing unprecedented levels of divorce," Mrs Lloyd-Platt said. "This recession has been a staggering leveller that has forced people to really look at their lives and ask themselves what's important."
Francine Kaye, a divorce therapist who goes by the name of the "Divorce Doctor", said: "The economic situation is clearly already having a profound effect on married life. Many people who want to divorce simply can't afford to because they can't sell their properties. I have one client trapped in a £1m house in Chelsea with her husband because they can't get the right price for it. They've even marked which rooms they can use and have specific times for using the communal areas so they don't have to see each other. It's terribly tragic."
Denise Cedar, a psychologist and life coach, said she had also been inundated with clients since the new year. "I can honestly say that I have never in my career of 25 years been so busy," she said. "There is huge social change going on in Britain. People seem to be waking up and initiating the sort of lifestyle change that they had never considered before." She added: "I've had so many couples where the husband has been made redundant and suddenly the wife realises the only reason she was hanging on to the marriage was because of the lifestyle."
Lawyers in Scotland say they are seeing a surge in "divorce tourism" where wealthy men are issuing proceedings north of the Borders because the terms are often better for husbands than in England.Reuse content