In Focus: Vulnerability  

How to help vulnerable 'Divorce Day' clients

  • To understand how divorce matters for financial vulnerability
  • To recognise the soft skills advisers need
  • To be able to explain tough financial decisions in a clear and empathetic manner
How to help vulnerable 'Divorce Day' clients
Photo by Burak Kostak via Pexels

The New Year has come, positive resolutions are still front of mind, and the whole world is hopeful of a better year than 2020 turned out to be.

But for hundreds of families across Britain, January 4 will have proven particularly, personally difficult - marking the start of a series of events that will cause great emotional, mental and financial upheaval.

The first working Monday of every January has become known as 'Divorce Day' - the day when solicitors and counselling services receive their highest rates of calls from people seeking a divorce. 

Usually the desire for a split has been brewing for many months, if not years, but has come to a head over Christmas, where all sorts of skeletons tumble out of seasonal closets - Emma Thompson's character in Love Actually is a prime example of art reflecting life.

In 2019, counselling charity Relate reported that visits to its website were up a staggering 84 per cent over the first three working days of 2019 compared to the same time in 2018.

According to research carried out by Relate in 2016 among more than 5,000 adults, 18 per cent said that, with the right support and help, they “would have been able to make the ending of the relationship easier to deal with".

But 2021's Divorce Day is set to be a little different in tone, because clients are likely to feel even more vulnerable.

According to solicitors Russell & Russell, although divorce rates usually spike at the beginning of any year, 2021's peak is expected to be higher than usual, thanks to the hardship of the preceding year.

A blog post from the solicitors read: "The year 2020 has been tough for us all. Added pressure that has come with increased employment worries, health concerns regarding Covid-19, and more time being spent at home due to enforced lockdowns, will have caused added relationship stress and subsequently the breakdown of some relationships and marriages."

Covid, unemployment, financial and mental stress, worries over the future of the economy - all these are added stress factors bearing on individuals, making it far more likely that advisers will see a rise in clients going through divorce proceedings in 2021.

This means there will be many people feeling particularly vulnerable - people who need to have absolute trust in their financial advisers over their financial affairs. Indeed, advisers often become quasi-support systems not just on a financial level but also personal. 

Advisers must therefore be not just experts in dealing with the technical aspects of divorce, such as pension sharing and division of assets, but also in the soft skills needed to hold clients' hands through this difficult time. 

Risk factors

Peter Burgess, founding partner and mediator at solicitors Burgess Mee, comments: "Divorce invariably makes people more financially vulnerable but sometimes they are already vulnerable.