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‘Complicated’ Lifestyle Factors Affecting Divorce Trends

ONS Releases New Figures


Leading family lawyers say the latest divorce stats released today (20th December) are the result of a complicated web of underlying trends including the low marriage rate, the rise in cohabitation and the view that age is no longer a barrier to divorce.

Law firm Irwin Mitchell, which has a team of specialist family lawyers across the country, said that the slight fall in the divorce rate for 2011 is no surprise given the surge in the number of unmarried couples living together, which has doubled since 1996. They also highlighted a rise in ‘silver separations’ – with older age groups showing high numbers of people divorcing.

The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show that the number of divorces in England and Wales in 2011 was 117,558, a decrease of almost 2 per cent since 2010. The age groups between 40 and 49 had the highest number of divorces.

John Nicholson, a family law partner at Irwin Mitchell, said: “When divorce rates were higher last year there was a view from some that divorce had become too easy, but relationship breakdowns are emotionally very tricky and making the physical process as straightforward as possible is not necessarily a bad thing.

“The rise in cohabitation and the fact that marriage generally just isn’t as popular these days are the major factors in the fall in divorces. Lifestyles today are completely different to 20, 30 years ago.

“The statistics do however show that there is a rise in older people getting divorced in recent years, often as a result of couples drifting apart after ‘empty nest syndrome’ as the children head off to university or move out of the family home. People are also living healthier, longer lives and are wishing to pursue other relationships whereas before couples may have felt compelled to stay together in old age.

“The statistics over the past few decades also show that the numbers of couples divorcing where the marriage was the first for both parties has generally decreased whereas the percentage of divorces where one or both parties have previously divorced has gradually increased.”

During the recession many couple are believed to have put both marriages and divorces on hold due to worries over how they would split their assets but lawyers say that now people are more willing to move on and usually fall on two sides, those that want to fight for every penny, and those couples that want to try to save money by working together as much as possible.

Nicholson added: “No two relationships are the same and each individual divorce or separation is different whether amicable or not. The important thing is to seek professional advice early so that the right course of action can be agreed which will hopefully have the least emotional impact, especially where children are involved.

“There are more ways to divorce consensually than ever before with mediation and collaborative law certainly becoming more popular. There is a growing emphasis from courts, judges, marriage counsellors and most importantly our clients on resolving disputes out-of-court  where possible and many couples prefer this approach at the outset.”