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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.

How this will all be decided partly depends on who has ‘parental responsibility’.

What is parental responsibility?

This concept was introduced as part of the Children Act 1989, replacing outdated terms such as ‘child custody’. Instead of having rights over children, parents are now described to have ‘responsibility’ for them until they reach the age of 18.

Mothers automatically have parental responsibility in the eyes of the law. Fathers who are married to (or in a civil partnership with) the mother, or who are named on the child’s birth certificate, also usually have automatic parental responsibility.

If one parent does not have automatic parental responsibility, they can obtain it through a Parental Responsibility Order issued through the court. Parents can also enter into a Parental Responsibility Agreement together.

Divorce and parental responsibility

When it comes to divorce, the Children Act is very clear. It sets out these three main principles:

1.      Children’s welfare should always be the paramount concern

2.      Delays in making arrangements for children is likely to be damaging, so decisions should be made as soon as possible

3.      It’s in the best interests of children to have both parents involved in their lives, unless there’s a good reason why not.

If you have parental responsibility for your children, it doesn’t mean that you have a legal right to spend time with them. However, it does mean that you must be included when making important decisions which affect their lives. Examples of this kind of decision include:

·        Where the child will live 

·        Where the child goes to school and other decisions affecting their education

·        Choosing or changing the child’s name

·        Access to the child’s medical records

·        Representation of the child in legal proceedings

·        Taking the child abroad for holidays or longer-term stays

·        The religion (if any) the child will be brought up in.

Making decisions about children during divorce

During divorce, one of the first things to do is establish who has parental responsibility. Once this has been sorted, you can start to make decisions together in the best interests of your children.

It can often be difficult to agree with your ex on all issues relating to your children. The art of compromise is almost certainly something you’ll need to learn. 

But remember, you can use mediation to resolve thorny issues and sticking points. You can also rely on advice from your divorce solicitor to help you make these crucial decisions. You don’t have to go through this alone.

For advice you can trust on children’s arrangements during divorce, get in touch with Wirral family lawyer Tracey Miller Family Law. We’ll help you make the right decisions in the best interests of your whole family.