Children involved in divorces vary widely in their experiences, and sometimes can even fare better than children whose parents stay together - for there is overwhelming evidence that it is the way that a family functions which matters, more than family structure, to a child's well-being.It is the consequences of divorce, such as increased financial hardship, high levels of conflict and parental psychological distress, that determine whether or not children fall into the majority group who adjust well, or suffer long-term.'Once we had a family, finding time to do our work was always a problem,' says divorcee Joyce. The anguish that parents feel when their relationship breaks down cannot be underestimated.

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'They come to check out whether they can even afford to think about it, and then they come back two years later even though they have probably been miserable all that time.' Jackie found herself falling for a friend just as a ten-year-long relationship with her first boyfriend ended, and four months later they were married.

'I woke up the day after we got married and it was as if someone had poured a bucket of cold water on my head. 'My gut feeling was that I had rushed into something and made a terrible mistake.

Youth may be the ideal time for reproduction physically, but it is not necessarily the best time to establish a lifelong partnership. Communications between the two of us broke down under the pressures of family life.

People change profoundly when they become parents, and now that both tend to work longer hours than ever before, they rarely find time for themselves, let alone for each other. I nagged, he refused to talk.' Those who drift inexorably apart find that in addition to feeling a deep sense of failure in marriage, there is the intractable feeling that you have failed to create a happy family as well.

There appear to be three key stages in the life of a relationship when it is most prone to breakdown - at the very beginning, then when children are young, and finally in midlife. Many of these failed relationships will have gone wrong the moment the romance died and insurmountable differences were uncovered, but couples can still take years to get to the point of separation.

'We often see people for just one visit,' says divorce lawyer Kim Beatson.

I spoke to Sarah, who was astonished by the length of time it took her to recover from her divorce and eventually went to counselling at Relate to help her get over it.