More than 1,500 couples sought help separating from mediation centres with the Family Support Agency last year, with many blaming disputes arising from “time poverty”.
Launching the agency’s annual report yesterday, CEO Pat Bennett explained: “They don’t get time together trying to sort through issues. The most important thing in relationships is communication and where that suffers, you’re going to have trouble maintaining it.”
“Time poverty” was a growing issue, he added. Problems included confusion over a mother’s role, long commutes and pressure couples faced with so little free time to sort through disputes.
“Where their day is longer, a lot of people are starting their day at half six and are not at home until half six or seven at night-time and there’s still the domestic chores and all those pressures to take care of. Where there are children involved, it’s very hard to make that time,” he said.
It is primarily an issue among Dublin couples and in surrounding counties in the eastern region, said the Family Support Agency.
Of couples who received help from agency centres, just under half went on to seek mediated separations. Most reached agreements.
Common disputes included the family home, where children would stay, spending time with children, financial support, dividing assets and the family home’s contents. Once a couple agree their separation, an agreement in everyday language is passed to their respective solicitors for legal separations.
Other issues raised last year during couple’s disputes included the care of elderly parents, contact between parents and their adult children and family disagreements over wills.
“In-laws can try and influence the division of property and that can lead to conflict,” added Mr Bennett.
The Family Support Agency mediates between couples but also helps lone parents and those suffering bereavements.
It helps enhance the role young fathers have with children and supports women’s groups.
The agency opened up two new offices in Portlaoise and Letterkenny, bringing to 16 the number of family mediation centres in 2006.
During disputes in 2006, 6% of couples managed to return to marriages.
The agency also gave €9 million to counselling groups who helped 70,000 people.
Marriage counselling received the most funding (57%), followed by bereavement (20%) and child counselling (13%).
Launching its annual report, Social and Family Affairs Minister Martin Cullen said the agency was an increasingly important service, a “conduit in helping couples who have decided to divorce or separate to reach agreement”.
“It has a critical role in working out agreed parenting arrangements that allow children involved to retain close bonds with both parents,” he said.