• April 19, 2024
 Divorce rates fall

Divorce rates fall

ONS statistics just released on the number of completed divorces in 2022 were initially a bit of a surprise. There was an expectation in some quarters that divorce rates would increase year-on-year, following the end of the Covid-19 pandemic and the introduction of ‘No Fault divorce’ in April 2022.

However, the figures revealed that divorce rates dropped significantly in 2022 in comparison to the previous year. The number of divorces granted was only 80,057, a 29.5% drop on 2021’s figures. This is also the lowest number of divorces recorded since 1971.

A 50-year low could seem surprising, but one should approach this 2022 result with caution as divorce rates have been fluctuating in recent years and there are several explanations for low divorce rates in 2022.

First, the introduction of no-fault divorce in April implemented mandatory cooling-off and waiting periods totalling 26-weeks, meaning delays to divorces being granted. Add to this the number of people who held off issuing proceedings leading up to the change to no-fault divorce and it’s less surprising that fewer divorces concluded in that year.

Secondly, disruption to the family court system, which started during Covid-19, has had a lingering impact on the effectiveness of the system, leading to delays. Initially it meant that in 2021 there was 113,505 divorces. This was a 9.6% increase on 2020 but reflected the unblocking of the backlog of cases that had built up in the first year of the pandemic. While the pandemic and lockdowns were ongoing into 2021, the justice system was able to adjust, to a degree, introducing remote hearings enabling more divorces to be granted.  However, users of the system are still experiencing delays as the system struggles to cope, given the limited resources available to it.

Thirdly, it is also likely that the economic downturn and cost-of-living crisis which experts say started to take effect in late 2021 and into 2022 has had an impact. Couples who want to divorce have felt they could not afford to make their separation official. A substantial part of this is concern about how to fund two separate households.

What once may have covered housing, bills, childcare, and other living expenses, even as a two income home, was becoming increasingly stretched. To then shrink that down to a single income, especially in a time of economic crisis, is likely to have put some couples off getting a divorce – postponing it until the economy was better.

At Stowe Family Law, we conducted a survey on the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on relationships. 30% of respondents revealed that they were staying in their current relationship due to fear of not being able to afford to live on their own.

Given the unprecedented forces that have shaped divorce over the past several years, it is prudent to approach any single year’s data, like 2022, cautiously before declaring any lasting change to underlying patterns.

Before Covid, divorce rates among men and women were relatively stable, albeit on a long-term declining trajectory, reflecting the increase in popularity of other family and relationship structures, apart from marriage.   It is undeniable that attitudes towards relationships are changing, and people are marrying later in life and choosing to cohabit, either instead of marriage or as a precursor to it.

It will be interesting to see what the next few years reveal. Whether lower divorce rates become a trend or whether they are more the result of recent events, including a poorer economic climate, time will tell.

Henry Crisp is a Partner at Stowe Family Law.



Stowe Family Law

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