On 17 November 2020, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) issued its latest figures for divorces in England and Wales during 2019.
There were 107,599 divorces of opposite-sex couples in 2019, increasing by 18.4% from 90,871 in 2018; the scale of this increase partly reflects divorce centres processing a backlog of casework in 2018, which is likely to have translated into a higher number of completed divorces in 2019.
The divorce rate among opposite-sex couples in 2019 increased to 8.9 divorces per 1,000 married men and women aged 16 years and over from 7.5 in 2018; this increase will have been impacted by the additional processing of casework in 2018.
There were 822 divorces among same-sex couples in 2019, nearly twice the number in 2018 (428 divorces); of these, nearly three-quarters (72%) were between female couples.
Unreasonable behaviour was the most common reason for opposite-sex couples divorcing in 2019 with 49% of wives and 35% of husbands petitioning on these grounds; it was also the most common reason for same-sex couples divorcing, accounting for 63% of divorces among women and 70% among men.
In 2019, the average (median) duration of marriage at the time of divorce was 12.3 years for opposite-sex couples, a small decrease from 12.5 years in the previous year.
Commenting on the statistics, Harry Golding, lawyer in the family team at Thomson Snell & Passmore says: “It is notable that the most common factual basis for applying for divorce is “unreasonable behaviour”. “Unreasonable behaviour” is often seen as the default or catch-all provision where no other factual basis is available to the parties, and it is not time barred, but it has the unfortunate consequence of starting the divorce proceedings off based on fault with one party required to make accusations against the other in a manner not conducive to promoting co-operation between the parties in other aspects of their divorce.
“It is therefore positive that in June 2020 Parliament passed an Act to introduce the ability for parties to make a “no-fault” application for divorce. The option for parties to do this is expected to come in to effect in Autumn 2021.
“The statistics also confirm that the number of new marriages remains at the low level that it has more or less been at since 2009. This likely reflects changing attitudes towards cohabitation and a trend of marrying later in life. It is a slightly worrying trend because the law has not yet caught up with this more modern way of life. The law offers very limited financial protection to unmarried couples irrespective of how long they have lived together, or whether they have children and the financial sacrifices either of them may have made throughout the relationship.”
Harry’s comments have also featured in ePrivate client https://www.paminsight.com/epc/article/divorce-numbers-spike-may-be-%E2%80%98misleading-