The national divorce rate has hit a seven-year high and pushy parents are partly to blame, one West Midlands family law expert told Jessica Shepherd...

Kevin Harris-James needs a king-size box of tissues on his desk.

The partner at the Birmingham branch of city law firm Irwin Mitchell deals solely with divorce cases.

Not only are they increasing, they are also more complex than ever and one of the factors is the increasing interference of the in-laws.

"We're finding more and more that parents' involvement helps push already vulnerable relationships over the edge," said Mr Harris-James.

"In the last year, a third of the couples I have dealt with have told me that their parents have been a contributing factor in getting a divorce.

"Parents tend to be at their most influential in the run-up to and immediately after a

decision is made to separate. "Often this is because parents have given a child and their partner money for a property and when they split they have a financial interest in it. The money turns from a gift into a repayable loan."

In the majority of cases, Mr Harris-James has found the wife's parents to be the pushiest.

He said: "The traditional marital relationship consists of a woman as homemaker and man as business person.

"Obviously this has changed radically, but there is still a sense that a woman should be protected and that her parents must make sure she is not being kept in the dark over the legal and financial details.

"I remember one father came to 12 meetings and all eight court appearances with his daughter."

Mr Harris-James believes parental involvement has increased because young adults now live at home for longer.

More than 6.8 million over-18s live with their parents nowadays, far more than did 20 years ago.

"These bonds are hard to break and children appear to trust their parents more. They know them better having lived at home longer. This is excellent for the family unit, but it can be seen as interference from a former partner's point of view," he said.

The close relationship also led more and more parents to persuade their engaged

offspring to sign a prenuptial agreement - a non-legally binding contract signed by a couple in which they agree who should get what and when if they divorce.

Mr Harris-James said: " Parental influence can have a massive impact on a marriage and usually starts before a couple walk down the aisle.

"I've handled a number of cases where mothers and fathers, especially those with family businesses, have insisted on pre-nuptial agreements being signed before a wedding to set out what will happen if the couple split.

"The number of 'pre-nups' I have dealt with in the last five years has increased ten-fold.

"Most clients have nothing to lose by signing them. Judges are increasingly willing to take account of them and they are likely to be made legally binding in Britain in future."

Parents, especially the newly-retired, also increasingly use wealth to bribe their children to divorce or separate from a partner, he said.

"It is more difficult to get and keep a foot on the property ladder than in previous eras. Many young people are financially dependent on parents years after they fly the nest.

"This factor is sometimes used by mums and dads to try and influence how their adult children behave," said Mr Harris-James.

"There's a lot more willingness on their part to support couples through divorce, even to the extent in some cases of buying homes for their children or giving money to their spouses to ensure marriages come to quick and satisfactory conclusions.

"That's fine as long as parents ensure any financial agreements are properly drawn up in case the relationship fails."

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