Large drop in number of divorces

The Office for National Statistics (‘ONS’) has published its latest figures for divorces in England and Wales, for the year 2020, and one headline stands out.

The headline is that the number of divorces granted fell by 4.5%, compared to the previous year. The decrease was amongst opposite-sex couples, with the number of opposite-sex divorces reducing from 107,599 in 2019 to 102,438 in 2020, a fall of 4.8%.

The reasons behind the decrease are not yet clear, but it is believed that the pandemic has been the main factor. The ONS point out that the Ministry of Justice has previously reported that family court activities were affected by the pandemic during 2020, including the temporary suspension of operations by some courts for a period of time. They say that this may have impacted the number and timeliness of completed divorces in 2020, but admit that it is difficult to know the extent of the impact.

Another theory is that the pandemic simply caused fewer couples to issue divorce proceedings, deciding to ‘stick together’, at least until the pandemic is over. If this is the case, then obviously we may see a post-pandemic surge in divorces.

As to same-sex divorces, the figures show a different story. In 2020, there were 1,154 divorces among same-sex couples, increasing by 40.4% from 2019. Of course, this increase is simply due to the fact that same-sex divorce has only been possible since 2015, and it is therefore to be expected that the numbers will be going up, before they eventually stabilise.

The statistics also include other information, apart from just the number of divorces.

They tell us, for example, that unreasonable behaviour was the most common reason for wives petitioning for divorce among opposite-sex couples, and two years’ separation the most common reason for husbands. Of course, when no-fault divorce is introduced in April it will no longer be necessary to give a reason for the breakdown of the marriage.

They also tell us that once again amongst opposite-sex couples wives were responsible for the vast majority of divorces (64,076, against 38,362 granted to husbands).

Lastly, the statistics include figures for the average duration of marriage at the time of divorce. For opposite-sex couples this was 11.9 years, a decrease from 12.4 years in 2019. For same-sex couples it was 4.7 years for female couples and 5.4 years for male couples, although again this is affected by the short time it has been possible for same-sex couples to get divorced.

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