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Insights // 18 November 2020

Divorce Levels Reach Five Year High According to the ONS

Associate solicitor Gemma Kemp, in our leading Family Law team, looks at the Office for National Statistics' (ONS) newly published figures on divorce rates in England and Wales.

The number of opposite sex couples in England and Wales seeking to divorce increased by almost 20% in 2019 versus the previous year, according to figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).  Furthermore, the divorce rate among same sex couples almost doubled in that same time period.

Last year saw 107,599 opposite sex divorces and 822 same sex divorces take place, representing the largest year on year rise since the introduction of the Divorce Reform Act 1969, which made divorce easier for separated couples.

However, the ONS highlights that this significant increase in the number of divorces may, in part, be due to divorce centres processing a backlog of applications, meaning that some divorces which may otherwise have completed in 2018 were not in fact finalised until 2019, thereby pushing up the divorce rate for 2019.

In 2019, the average length of marriage at the time of divorce was 12.3 years for opposite sex couples, and the most common reason cited for divorce was unreasonable behaviour.  This reason was given by 49% of wives and 35% of husbands in heterosexual relationships and 63% of women and 70% of men in same sex relationships.

Last year’s increase bucked a general downward trend in the number of divorces since 2003, when 153,065 divorces were recorded.  It is worth noting that there was a decrease in the number of marriages between 2003 and 2009, and since then the number of marriages has fluctuated, whereas the divorce rate has declined overall. 

Unless married couples have been separated for at least two years, existing divorce laws require one of the parties to blame the other, by citing their unreasonable behaviour or adultery (for same sex couples only) in the divorce application. 

This may well change with the introduction of the ‘no fault divorce’ from autumn 2021, which will make it possible for separated spouses to divorce without apportioning blame.

For further information or legal advice, please contact law@blandy.co.uk or call 0118 951 6800. 

This article is intended for the use of clients and other interested parties. The information contained in it is believed to be correct at the date of publication, but it is necessarily of a brief and general nature and should not be relied upon as a substitute for specific professional advice.

Gemma Kemp

Gemma Kemp

Associate Solicitor, Family Law

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