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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.

But what will staying at home 24/7 do for the state of the nation’s relationships? And what will happen to couples who have already started the divorce process? Liverpool divorce lawyer Tracey Miller Family Law looks into the key issues of what is a rapidly changing situation.

Will divorce rates rise?

Divorce lawyers are expecting the coronavirus crisis to cause a significant increase in divorce rates. Relationships that were already struggling may be pushed to breaking point when couples have to self-isolate together. Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia has said:

"The prediction amongst divorce lawyers is that following self-imposed confinement it is very likely that the divorce rate will rise.

"Our peak times are after long exposure during the summer holidays and over Christmas.

"One only has to imagine what it's going to be like when families are sealed in a property for a long period of time."

If you’re considering delaying divorce until after the peak of the crisis has passed, it’s worth bearing in mind that this is the exact time when the divorce courts are likely to see a spike in demand. As the courts struggle to clear the backlog and new cases flood in, you could end up waiting far longer for your case to be resolved.

The divorce courts – are they working as normal?

Like many industries, the UK’s justice and legal system is bound to be affected by measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Many court staff will be working from home, and there may be staff shortages in a number of key departments. The family law courts are likely to be prioritising essential core cases and using technology to carry out remote telephone and video hearings where possible. This removes the need for people to come into close contact with each other in open, face-to-face court.

Expect delays if you’re getting divorced

Even though the family courts will be doing their utmost to process divorce applications as normal, you should still be prepared for delays in your case. If you have particularly complicated circumstances, such as disagreements over maintenance payments and arrangements for children, it may not be possible for these issues to be ironed out in remote hearings. Hearings may be adjourned until such a time where the case can be heard in court in full.

How legal advice, virtual mediation and counselling can help

Living with a divorce hanging over your head – or worse, with a partner you’re estranged from – in a lockdown situation can be extremely difficult. But you don’t have to handle it alone. You can and should seek legal advice from your divorce solicitor over the phone, and you can even undergo relationship counselling or mediation using remote video calling technology. There are services out there to help people in struggling relationships to cope with the coronavirus lockdown, and to help you prepare your divorce arrangements in as amicable a way as possible.

If you need help or support, or simply want to use this time to get fully prepared for your divorce, don’t hesitate to call Liverpool divorce solicitor Tracey Miller Family Law on 0151 515 3036. You can also access remote counselling services from Relate.