News & Insights

New Separation & Divorce HR Initiative Backed by Big Employers

Tesco, ASDA and NatWest are among the organisations reported as supporting the Positive Parenting Alliance’s new initiative, which encourages employers to take a more employee-friendly approach to divorce and separation.

Around 115,000 divorces and dissolutions of civil partnerships were granted in England & Wales in 2021, with many more couples separating in anticipation of starting the legal process. As cohabiting couples account for around 17.5% (and rising) of families in the UK, we can be sure that there will also have been large numbers of separations of informal partnerships. An estimated 42% of marriages will end in divorce, and around half of these will occur in the first 10 years of marriage; so, in many cases, separation will occur during an adult’s working life.

Balancing the logistical and emotional difficulties of a relationship ending with the stresses of work can be overwhelming for employees. A Positive Parenting Alliance (PPA) survey revealed that 90% of employees found separation impacted on their ability to do their job. The majority felt less efficient at work and 40% needed to take time off. This is not at all surprising, given the stress underpinning separation; regardless of whether couples have the formalities of a marriage or civil partnership to unpick, they will almost certainly own joint assets, such as homes, bank accounts, or vehicles, which will need to be dealt with as part of the split. There will be further strain on those with children, for whom arrangements will need to be made for their care and maintenance.

All of this will be of concern both to employees and their employers; yet only 9% of employers have specific policies or support in place for separating employees.

The PPA HR Initiative, which launched on 26 January 2023, is asking employers to:

  • recognise separation as a “life event” in HR policy, similar to the death of a relative or serious illness, so that those separating can feel recognised and know that they can access support from their employer;
  • ensure separating parents have access to flexible working to enable them to reconfigure childcare responsibilities;
  • give employees access to emotional counselling; and
  • signpost separation support services.

Tesco, ASDA and NatWest are among the employers reported to be supporting the initiative and planning on implementing HR policies for staff going through separation and it is expected that more may follow suit.

If your business wants to take steps towards supporting employees in these circumstances, a good place to start can be updating your policies and procedures, to address the support you feel able to give to staff dealing with relationship breakdown. Employers being proactive about these issues can help to create a more positive working environment in which employees feel valued and supported. Changes can be simple, such as giving a clear message to employees that they can talk about the issues they are having in confidence, or go further with measures such as allowing paid leave in certain circumstances. In the era of the “great resignation”, taking such an approach can help with retention and could even nip grievance or disciplinary issues, which might have otherwise resulted from personal relationship difficulties, in the bud.

Field Seymour Parkes is a full-service firm, and the Family and Matrimonial team operates as a key part of this. If you need any further information or advice relating to separation, divorce or family matters, please contact a member of our Family and Matrimonial team. Alternatively, if you are an employer looking for advice on your policies or HR processes, please get in touch with our Employment team at [email protected]


Article contributor, Bethan Chant, Graduate Apprentice Solicitor