CALGARY -- The pressure of awkward family functions now safely past, January is when many unhappy couples choose to start to legally separate their lives.

Mediation professionals say it can take months or even years to make the big decision to change course and end a marriage, and the passage of the holiday season lifts some of the outside social difficulties.

 "It’s a time when people — not think of divorce, but actually want to file for divorce," says Zeina El-Sayed, a divorce mediator and paralegal. "They reach out to lawyers and divorce professionals to start the process."

She says no matter what the circumstances it’s important for couples to do their best to cooperate and stay focussed on the core issues of parenting and money. She says when too many emotions get in the way, everyone suffers.

Changes to the Matrimonial Property Act in Alberta now give common law partners greater rights.

And while it may not sound romantic, divorce mediators advise that a prenupital agreement beforehand can save couples a lot of expense and uncertainty should separation season unexpectedly strike.