Is the divorce rate
really dropping?

The divorce rate for opposite sex couples in England and Wales has plunged to its lowest level for almost half a century.  BUT Ministry of Justice statistics highlight an administrative reason behind the scale of this decrease, and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said today it expected a higher number of divorces in 2019.

There were 90,871 divorces of heterosexual partners in 2018 – a drop of 10.6% compared with the previous year and the lowest number since 1971, in figures released today by the ONS. The divorce rate fell to 7.5 per 1,000 married men and women from 8.4 in the previous year. Divorcing couples were married for an average of 12-and-a-half years, according to the figures.

“Although the recent ONS figures indicate a decline in the divorce figures and suggest reasons for that, the bigger picture is far from clear. With increasing delays in court processing of divorce applications, combined with some couples possibly delaying divorce for economic reasons, there may be hidden numbers that are not reflected in this information.”

Chris Fairhurst, partner

The ONS said the drop “partly reflects the overall trend seen in recent years”, but was also more pronounced because 8% more divorce petitions were processed last year as a backlog of cases from 2017 were dealt with.

One interesting statistic has been highlighted as main reason for the long-term decline in divorce – the lower rate of marriage as more couples opt to cohabit without going through a wedding ceremony.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, 51.9% of wives and 36.8% of husbands petitioned for divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour.

Bear in mind however there is only one ground for divorce, namely that the marriage has “irretrievably broken down”. To evidence this, the petitioner (applicant) for the divorce will need to rely upon one of what is known as The Five Facts:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion (in practice, this is rare, and difficult to prove)
  • two years separation with agreement by both that there should be a divorce
  • five years separation (the consent of the Respondent is not needed)

The most common facts relied upon are unreasonable behaviour, which can include infidelity, or adultery.

Chris Fairhurst, partner, said: “Although the recent ONS figures indicate a decline in the divorce figures and suggest reasons for that, the bigger picture is far from clear. With increasing delays in court processing of divorce applications, combined with some couples possibly delaying divorce for economic reasons, there may be hidden numbers that are not reflected in this information. Anecdotal evidence also points to some couples waiting until they can obtain a “No Fault” divorce. Unfortunately, introduction of that legislation will now be delayed indefinitely, as it failed to complete its passage through Parliament before the election was called, meaning the legislation will need to be re-introduced.”

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