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The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has released its latest figures on divorce in England and Wales. The data shows that there was a surge in new divorce applications in 2019 of over 18% compared to the previous year. This is believed to be the sharpest rise in divorce cases in nearly 50 years.

There were 107,599 divorces between opposite-sex couples, the highest number in five years. This equates to 8.9 divorces for every 1,000 married people, a rate that was just 7.5 in 2018. There were also 822 divorces recorded between same-sex couples. This represented a huge rise of nearly 50% compared to 2018.

The 2019 increase is certainly surprising, as divorce numbers have generally been on a downward trend for a number of years. According to the ONS report, this is partly because fewer people are getting married in the first place. It states:

"Changes in attitudes to cohabitation as an alternative to marriage or prior to marriage, particularly at younger ages, are likely to have been a factor affecting the general decrease in divorce rates since 2003."

What caused the 2019 rise in divorces?

These startling new figures beg the question – what happened in 2019 to cause so many marriages to fall apart?

According to the ONS, the explanation could actually be very simple. It could all be down to an administrative issue.

The ONS has said that at least part of the increase could be attributed to a casework backlog in 2018. This would make divorce cases lower in 2018 and higher in 2019, with many divorces from 2018 only being recorded in the following year’s figures.

The report stated:

"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.”

Another divorce spike on the horizon

Due to the intense pressures of 2020 during the start of the coronavirus pandemic, another sharp increase in divorce cases is almost certainly on the way. Numerous lockdowns, restrictions and hardship are bound to have exacerbated existing marriage problems.

The charity Citizen’s Advice saw a significant increase in searches for divorce guidance on its website as early as April 2020. And in September, this rise in searches was 25% higher than the same time in 2019.

But if you’re facing marriage problems, you don’t have to go through it alone.

Get in touch with Wirral divorce solicitor Tracey Miller Family Law and we can help you arrange mediation and counselling, as well as reliable, practical divorce advice if you need it. Call us on 0151 515 3036 or contact us online – we’re here to help.

Scientists and sociologists at the University of Washington looked at patterns in divorce filings over a 14-year period. Presenting findings at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, lead researcher Professor Julie Brines revealed that they had uncovered a peak in divorce filings in both March and August between 2001 and 2015 in the state of Washington.

They believe that the cause of these increases at these particular times of year is couples putting off filing for divorce, ‘getting through the holidays’ for the sake of children and family relations. The stress of holidays is also thought to push couples to breaking point, especially if a particularly luxurious or expensive holiday, or a ‘make or break’ getaway, doesn’t live up to their high expectations.

Professor Brines explained:

“People tend to face the holidays with rising expectations, despite what disappointments they might have had in years past.

“They represent periods in the year when there's the anticipation or the opportunity for a new beginning, a new start, something different, a transition into a new period of life.

“It's like an optimism cycle, in a sense.”

Explaining why March and not January and February (the months immediately following Christmas) is a peak month for divorce filings, researchers argued that the financial strain of the festive period and the darker days of winter could put people off making a serious decision such as filing for divorce. When spring rolls around with its longer days and brighter weather, this has historically been seen as a time when people feel motivated to make significant changes in their lives.

In order to establish if this is a nationwide and perhaps even global pattern, researchers are now extending their research to cover divorce filings in other states such as Ohio, Florida, Arizona and Minnesota.

Divorce filings up after school holidays

Another expert, family lawyer Ayesha Vardag, also told the Daily Mail that their firm had often seen divorce rates shoot up and occasionally even triple immediately following the school holidays. She explained:

“Proximity to family members for a sustained period of time, particularly in close quarters in a hotel or holiday let is a prime cause.

“With a summer holiday, the pressures of keeping everyone occupied while finding time to relax paradoxically creates more tension for parents who have travelled abroad in search of sunnier climes.

“These tensions will only worsen with a relationship that is already on the rocks and, without the daily distractions that enable denial such as work, colleagues and friends, reality can really begin to bite.”

If you’ve found yourself facing a similar situation following a ‘make or break’ holiday, now is the time to seek some expert advice from a UK partnership law expert. Get in touch with the team at Tracey Miller, Wirral divorce solicitors, for a friendly chat – whether or not now is the right time to start divorce proceedings.