Largest annual rise in divorces for almost 50 years, data shows

Divorces among same-sex couples in England and Wales nearly double, from 428 in 2018 to 822 last year

Tom Batchelor
Tuesday 17 November 2020 14:48 GMT
Charity Relate advise on how to talk to children about separation and divorce

More than 100,000 couples applied for divorce last year with new data showing the largest annual percentage increase in separations in England and Wales in nearly 50 years – with same-sex splits almost doubling.

The Office for National Statistics' (ONS) said divorces of heterosexual couples rose by 18.4 per cent from 90,871 in 2018 to 107,599 last year – the highest number since 2014, when 111,169 divorces were granted.

It was also the largest annual percentage increase in the number of divorces since 1972, following the introduction of the The Divorce Reform Act 1969 which made it easier for couples to divorce upon separation, the ONS said.

Divorces among same-sex couples in England and Wales nearly doubled, from 428 in 2018 to 822 last year.

Nearly three-quarters (72 per cent) of these were between female couples.

The data suggests a reversing trend after divorce rates in the previous two years had dropped to their lowest since the early 1970s.

The ONS said that the scale of the recent increases could partly be attributed to divorce centres processing a backlog of casework in 2018, which was likely to have translated into a higher number of completed divorces in 2019.

It added: "The size of the increase can be partly attributed to a backlog of divorce petitions from 2017 that were processed by the Ministry of Justice in early 2018, some of which will have translated into decree absolutes (completed divorces) in 2019.

"This is likely to have contributed to both the particularly low number of divorces in 2018 (the lowest since 1971) and the increase seen in 2019."

David Leadercramer, a partner at Osbornes Law who specialises in family cases, said that there could be a further spike in divorces on the horizon due to the coronavirus pandemic putting "immeasurable strain" on relationships.

He said: "Despite these figures representing a large increase in divorces I predict this is the calm before the storm as I would expect to see even higher figures next year.

"The pandemic has put immeasurable strain on relationships and has caused a massive influx of cases hitting the divorce courts.

"In 35 years as a family lawyer I have never seen a consistently busy year like this year and that will be reflected in next year's divorce numbers."

The ONS also said that the number of same-sex divorces has risen each year, reflecting the increasing size of the same-sex married population since the introduction of marriages of same-sex couples in March 2014.

Kanak Ghosh, of the ONS' vital statistics outputs branch, said: "Same-sex couples have been able to marry in England and Wales from March 2014.

"Since then, we have seen the number of divorces of same-sex couples increase each year from very small numbers in 2015, when the first divorces took place, to more than 800 in 2019, reflecting the increasing size of the same-sex married population in England and Wales.

"While we see that 56 per cent of same-sex marriages were among females, nearly three-quarters of same-sex divorces in 2019 were to female couples.”

The ONS said that there had been an overall downward trend in divorce numbers since the most recent peak of 153,065 in 2003.

But this is broadly consistent with an overall decline in the number of marriages between 2003 and 2009.

Unreasonable behaviour was the most common reason for couples divorcing in 2019, the ONS said.

The new figures showed that 49 per cent of wives and 35 per cent of husbands in heterosexual marriages petitioned for divorce on these grounds.

It was also the most common reason for same-sex couples divorcing, accounting for 63 per cent of divorces among women and 70 per cent among men.

Additional reporting by PA

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