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Divorce rate among Ulster couples rises to record high

2,600 marriage breakdowns registered as survey highlights impact on families

By Connla Young

Almost 2,600 couples were divorced in Northern Ireland last year - a record number of marriage breakdowns for the province.

The startling statistic came to light after it emerged that up to 20 million people throughout the UK are living with the effects of divorce or separation.

A recent survey, Putting Children First, examines the impact of divorce and separation on family life.

Although there were 2,600 divorces registered last year, the highest number ever, more than 8,300 couples tied the knot.

And as relationships continue to break down at an increasing rate, it has emerged that of all the couples married in the mid 1980's, one in six were divorced by their 20th wedding anniversary.

Counselling supervisor at Relate Northern Ireland, Linda Wright, said many families are impacted by divorce.

She added: "When a couple separate this is not a single event but a process that affects the whole family.

"People often do put their children first and ensure they maintain contact with both parents and the extended families.

"But children can get caught in the crossfire, and suffer emotionally if they are not taken into consideration."

The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Patricia Lewsley said divorce and separation can be stressful for children.

She added: "Divorce or separation is an extremely difficult and highly emotional time for many children and young people. When I meet them they tell me how important their families are to them.

"Too often children and young people are caught in the middle between parents and we know they are often put in a position of having to choose - I would remind parents going through the trauma of a divorce or separation to carefully consider the needs of children and young people and to try to see the situation through the eyes of their children," she added.

"I want to see children being able to live in homes and communities where their rights are respected and they are loved, safe and can enjoy life, no matter how their families are structured."

The recent survey ties in with the publication of a new handbook for separated parents entitled Putting Children First.

The guide, which is being launched today, is aimed at everyone affected by family separation.

Co-author, Karen Woodall, also director of the Centre for Separated Families, said: "Family separation is often talked about in terms of teenage mothers and absent fathers but family separation is actually a fact of life in the UK across the whole of society.

"If you add in all the grandparents of children whose parents are separated and of adults partnering other separated parents, it is likely that divorce/separation is an issue affecting perhaps half the population.

" We are facing a crisis of inadequate support for these families."

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