Five divorce cases each day in Christchurch
GEORGINA STYLIANOU AND OLIVIA CARVILLE
Christchurch couples are divorcing by the "bucketload".
Dissolution of marriage applications are flooding Christchurch's Family Court and the registry support officer fears it may be only the first wave.
Family Court registry support officer Judith Millar said the court was receiving at least five divorce applications a day and many were now being posted in from Australia.
For the past four years, divorce rates have plummeted nearly 50 per cent in Christchurch from 1303 in 2008 to only 716 in 2011, Statistics New Zealand figures show.
Yet the Family Court has already received about 600 divorce applications so far this year, almost surpassing last year's total in only seven months.
"We are so busy with them. They are coming in by the bucketload," Millar said.
To apply for a dissolution of marriage certificate, a couple must be separated for at least two years and Millar said the recent break-up bulge could not be blamed on the Canterbury earthquakes, which only started in September 2010.
However, she personally believed the quakes could have fuelled a number of already separated couples to file for divorce because they had decided "life was too short" and said she thought the divorce rate would continue to climb as earthquake breakups started to show in the system.
Relationships Aotearoa agreed, and said it was a "reasonable assumption" the divorce rate would surge when marriages that had broken in the post-quake environment began to surface in the figures.
National practice manager Jo-Ann Vivian, who oversees 140 Christchurch-based counsellors, said there were "consistent reports" of marriages and relationships dissolving post-quake.
The counselling agency had seen a large influx of referrals from the Family Court and Vivian said there was a “whole list of reasons” why couples were struggling to survive in the quake-hit city's stressful climate.
Counsellors had reported issues such as job losses, increased work hours, financial concerns or one person wanting to stay in Christchurch while the other was desperate to flee.
There were also life-changing decisions being made on a daily basis, such as housing, insurance and a change of suburbs, communities and schools.
With an increase in stress levels, people often turned to drugs, alcohol or pornography, she said.
"These kind of massive decisions are being made in pressure-cooked environments at a time of ongoing aftershocks when people don't have the same resilience and flex of managing stress.
"When you put the whole package together, then no wonder couples are struggling in Christchurch."
High-profile relationship expert and author Ian Grant said pressure from a crisis could either "make or break" a relationship.
"If you don't mend the fences, or do the daily maintenance in your relationship when a crisis hits, then it all falls apart," he said.
Cantabrians had "been through hell" and he had no doubt their relationships had suffered because of it.
"If there's any shakiness in a relationship, the earthquake is the biggest shake to pull it apart," he said.
"It's the final straw on the camel's back."
Relationship guru Ian Grant's three points to "keeping your relationship alive".
Take 15 minutes out of each day to sit down and "really listen to your partner" to find out what's going on in each other's lives.
Have a date night once a week. This can be "spiced up" by allowing him to choose one week and her the other, or going through the alphabet and giving each date a "letter theme".
Once a year, have a 48-hour retreat with your partner. During the retreat go for a walk together and take half-hour, uninterrupted turns talking about your life.
"These three points will help to equal a happy, healthy relationship," Grant said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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