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 is this the case, and does common law marriage even exist? What rights do cohabiting couples have, if any? Wirral divorce solicitor Tracey Miller explores the ‘common law marriage myth’ and offers some essential advice for unmarried couples to help protect their rights.
What is the common law marriage myth?
If you live with your partner but you aren’t married, you don’t have the same legal rights and protections as a married couple. Despite this, nearly half of people believe that they have a common law marriage if they live with their partner.
The same British Social Attitudes Survey found that 55% of couples with children believe that common law marriages exist. In reality, it doesn’t matter whether you have children, or if you’ve been living together for two years or twenty years. You still don’t have the same legal rights as married couples.
What rights do married couples have that cohabitees don’t?
The rights we’re discussing here extend to property and assets, as well as inheritance tax and other matters.
If you and your partner separate, you won’t have a legal claim on assets unless you can show evidence that you have an interest in it. So, if you live in a house that was purchased by your partner, and the relationship ends – you may not even have the right to live there. You may be able to make a claim if you can provide evidence of financial contribution, but you may not be successful.
Other key differences between marriage and cohabitation include the following:
· You won’t automatically inherit anything if your partner dies and doesn’t leave a will
· Cohabiting couples have no obligation under the law to support each other financially
· You have no right to live in the ‘matrimonial home’ after separation.
But where does this sweeping misconception come from?
The concept of a common law marriage is relatively recent, and is believed to be invented – with no historical tradition. It comes from a time when it was less socially acceptable for unmarried couples to live together, being used by the press to describe ‘common law’ wives and husbands, as well as by couples trying to avoid the perceived shame of cohabitation.
Cohabitation is increasingly common in modern times, without any of the stigma of former times, but the myth of common law marriage still persists. And ignorance of the law can put couples and their children at risk, if they don’t make arrangements just in case the worst should happen.
How a cohabitation agreement can help
With the help of a family lawyer, you and your partner can draw up a cohabitation agreement. This sets out what will happen if you separate, sorting issues such as child support, control over bank accounts, the division of assets and so on.
To start the process of drawing up a cohabitation agreement, get in touch with Wirral family lawyer Tracey Miller.