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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.

The new court will be trialled next year in a limited number of areas, starting with London, South Wales and the West Midlands. The announcement was made by Sir James Munby, the most senior family court judge in England and Wales, who has long been in favour of ‘de-linking’ divorce and money in the UK court system. His announcement outlined how the new courts will work during the pilot scheme, as summarised by Monidipa Fouzder in The Law Society Gazette:

“Each circuit will typically have two regional hubs, headed by a lead judge expert in financial remedy work.

“Hearings will be conducted at the regional hubs and some financial remedies hearing centres within the hub area. 'Ticketed judges' will initially deal with ancillary relief cases. The work will eventually extend to all financial remedy cases dealt with in the family court or family division. District and circuit judges who currently do financial remedy work will be 'grandfathered' in.

“The courts will function separately from the regional divorce centres. They will initially handle paper files. However, HM Courts & Tribunals Service 'is already working on...a fully digitised model'.”

Why create a new court?

The aim of the Financial Remedies Court is to speed up and streamline the UK’s divorce courts, to make the process of getting divorced quicker and more efficient. By separating those cases involving complex financial disputes, particularly those involving disputes between wealthy couples with vast estates in the UK and overseas, from cases where there are no disputes over money – it is hoped that it could speed the system up for everyone.

Family and divorce courts can also place a greater priority on cases involving domestic abuse and other emergency situations, without the strain on time and resources from financial disputes that can drag on for months. A specialist court for financial matters will result in dedicated attention to achieve quicker resolutions for divorcing couples, while the family courts can do the same for all other cases.

Some reports have described the move as creating ‘courts for the super wealthy’, but not all financial claims heard in the Financial Remedies Court will be high value ones. Any dispute involving finances can be heard in these courts. However, it is worth mentioning that cases involving super wealthy couples are often the most complex to resolve, sometimes taking years or even decades, along with teams of divorce solicitors and millions of pounds, in order for a settlement to be reached. Taking these cases out of the family courts to free up time and resources can only be a positive move for all involved.

If you are facing divorce and want expert advice on how this change may affect you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the team at Tracey Miller Family Law, expert divorce solicitors in Liverpool.