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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.

At the start of 2020, there’s some positive news for those who passionately believe the law should change. The Government has revealed that it is still committed to reforming divorce legislation. Some campaigners were disappointed that it wasn’t included as a priority in the Queen’s Speech, but it was nonetheless mentioned in supporting papers.

The Government has reaffirmed its pledge to reduce unnecessary conflict in families, not only with this change to the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1973 but with a new Reducing Parental Conflict programme.

What is ‘no fault’ divorce and why is a change to the law needed?

You may have heard about the concept of ‘no fault’ divorce throughout 2019, as many key people and organisations in the legal profession are in support of it. These include The Law Society, Relate and the most senior family law judge in England, Sir James Munby. But what actually is it, and how would it affect divorce for people in England and Wales?

No fault divorce would remove the requirement for one party to prove that the relationship has broken down because of one of five key grounds. Three of these effectively accuse one spouse of ‘fault’ – adultery, desertion and unreasonable behaviour. The other two permit divorce if the couple have been separated for two or five years, depending on whether both parties agree to the separation.

The new divorce bill aims to eliminate this requirement, instead allowing couples to divorce with ‘irretrievable breakdown’ of the relationship as the one and only reason.

The hope is that this change will reduce the animosity, stress and upset that making an accusation against a former partner can cause. Couples who have simply drifted apart can divorce without having to ‘make up’ a reason for divorce or live apart for a number of years. It is also hoped that it will reduce the toll that divorce can take on families, where it can drive couples who need to co-parent further apart.  

Is everyone in favour of divorce law reform?

While many in the legal profession and in government believe that reform is long overdue, not everyone agrees. Some, including Christian organisations and some MPs, believe that no fault divorce will make it too easy for couples to separate. Explaining how the divorce bill could put a stop to any efforts of reconciliation, Conservative MP and solicitor Fiona Bruce has said:

“When couples do stay together and weather the inevitable storms of marriage, the stability that that engenders benefits not just the parties, but their children”.  

The government has also revealed plans for a £39 million programme entitled Reducing Parental Conflict, which aims to reduce the levels of harmful conflict between separating parents.

If you’re facing divorce, you don’t have to do it alone. Get in touch with Liverpool solicitor Tracey Miller Family Law  – we’ll do all we can to minimise stress and conflict during the process, while also fighting your corner.