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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.

Figures from National Family Mediation, a service designed to help families in conflict, reveal that a staggering 95% of couples’ head straight to court without having undergone the mediation process.

Starting from April 2014, the government made it mandatory for separating couples to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before they could apply for a court order for divorce proceedings. The thinking behind this new law was to encourage more couples to smooth out complications and amicably agree on the division of assets, settlements and similar issues – rather than putting undue pressure on the courts.

However, figures from 2014-15 show that in that year, only one in 20 divorce applications resulted in the couple following this new compulsory route to mediation. This meant that there were only around 5,000 couples undergoing MIAMs out of more than 112,000 applications for divorce.

Commenting on these surprising figures, the Chief Executive of National Family Mediation, Jane Robey, told Family Law Week:

"We genuinely welcomed the law change requiring couples to explore mediation as an alternative to combative court proceedings. We knew it could not transform the culture of divorce on its own, but these figures suggest even this small government step has flopped.

"It's not just that this is a law, the truth is that settlements negotiated through mediation offer a brighter future for separating families up and down the land.

"And given the well-publicised crisis of the clogged up family courts, one would think judges would have welcomed the changes and exercised their powers to take best advantage of the changes. That does not appear to be the case."

When mediation can be a good solution

In some cases, mediation could be the better solution. Where a case is relatively straightforward and both parties are willing to talk and to compromise, they could attain a quicker and cheaper resolution all-round. If there are children involved, mediation becomes even more important. Advocates of mediation believe that it can achieve a more amicable, long-lasting solution, one that does not solely revolve around money and financial settlements. Mediation can make angry couples involved in an acrimonious split take a step backward and really consider the needs of the children and the family as a whole.

Of course, not all cases are simple and straightforward, and many do require a combination of mediation, the services of a solicitor experienced in UK partnership law and the intervention of the courts in order to achieve a resolution that works for everyone.

If you are considering divorce and you would like expert advice, whether you intend to pursue mediation as a serious alternative to court action or not, Tracey Miller Family Law can help. As vastly experienced divorce solicitors, Liverpool clients come to us for reliable, professional advice on all aspects of the process.