The total number of couples getting a divorce in England and Wales has been dropping for the past 30 years with the occasional spike.
According to Office of National Statistic figures, the number of marriages has dropped. This would lead to the logical conclusion that that is why divorce figures are dropping.
So why the rate drop?
Over the last five decades changes in attitudes have affected statistics, in terms of the number of couples tying the knot and the age at which people do so. This, in turn, has affected divorce rates.
- The rise in cohabiting couples who do not tie the knot is the fastest growing type of household. Figures for the demise of a cohabitation do not exist.
- Over the years it has become acceptable to live together and staying single. 60% of couples nowadays have a time of cohabitation before they marry. They opt to convert their relationships into marriages because of the greater security as there are less rights for cohabitees.
- Women’s lives began to change in the first half of the 20th century following the gain of the vote. Later the impact of the Second World War. It was the second half of the century when the careers and prospects of women in the UK dramatically altered. More women chose to concentrate on further education and building careers for themselves.
- More people are leaving it until they are older to get married. Data suggests that those who marry at a later age tend to divorce less.
- Expectations about how a marriage ‘should be’ has led to an increase in relationship breakdowns. Many spouses no longer willing to stay in an unhappy relationship.
The drop in rates is likely to be directly linked to the absence of Legal Aid This was withdrawn for undefended divorces in 2012. Many couples stay married because they simply cannot afford to get a divorce and I have seen direct evidence of this since 2012. The Court fee itself has increased by an enormous percentage, (whilst most family lawyers charging rates have altered by much less). Many people eventually decide to seek a divorce several years after separation these days. This is rarely a good idea because the financial positions can alter so much in that interim period. My advice is that if they know for certain the marriage has irretrievably broken down and there is no prospect of a successful reconciliation then commencing divorce proceedings sooner rather than later is the best option for most separated couples if they are to protect their financial positions.
Reasons for Divorce
Since 1974 when the current rules on divorce came into effect, to get divorced in England and Wales couples have had to prove that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. To establish this, you must note on the divorce petition one of the following five reasons:
- unreasonable behaviour
- 2 years separation with consent
- 5 years separation (no consent required)
The most recent data shows the most common reason for divorce to be ‘unreasonable behaviour’. This has been the most common reason given by women since 1974. However, the most common reason for men has changed over the years, with ‘adultery’ cited more often across the 1980s, and ‘separation’ given in the first half-decade of the new millennium.
As we wrote about previously, a long-awaited reform is at long last on the way potentially doing away with the element of blame.
Justice secretary David Gauke confirmed his intention that couples wishing to divorce should benefit from a less confrontational process. A new process will allow people to notify the court of their intent to divorce, whilst removing the opportunity for the other spouse to contest it. This would avoid the unpleasantness which results from allegations of conduct.
At present, any person wishing to divorce is forced to blame each other for the marriage breakdown on the grounds of ‘unreasonable behaviour’, adultery or desertion. Alternatively they can prove they have been living apart for a minimum of two years – even if the separation is mutual. If the spouse cannot prove fault or the other party refuses to accept the allegations and contests the divorce, then couples currently have to wait five years before the granting of a divorce.
Nigel Shepherd, chairman of the national family lawyer’s organisation Resolution, said that couples are forced “into needless acrimony and conflict” under the current system, “to satisfy an outdated legal requirement”.
The new laws would allow couples to end their marriage as a mature, adult and amicable decision, only having to state, not prove, that the marriage has broken down.
Whatever the reason, sadly there are still many thousands of British families who are experiencing a family breakdown every year, whether that’s divorce or separation. If you are experiencing a breakup or, as a result, child contact issues, please get in touch to see if we can help.