• April 19, 2024
 Divorce stats show a decline in cases, despite expected surge following new legislation

Divorce stats show a decline in cases, despite expected surge following new legislation

New divorce and domestic violence data from the Ministry of Justice has revealed that at the tail end of last year there was an overall decline in divorces and domestic violence cases and adoption is on the rise. 

Between October and December 2023 there were 23,517 divorce applications under the new legislation, with predictions for a surge in divorces this summer following the 20-week cooling off period for couples going through a divorce. There were 23,517 applications made (75% from sole applicants, 25% from joint applicants), including those for dissolution of civil partnerships Annually, there were 110,770 divorce applications filed and 103,501 final orders granted throughout 2023, down 9% and up 29% respectively compared to 2022.

The mean average time for divorce and annulment cases to reach first disposal was 42 weeks in the recorded time frame – this includes both old and new divorce cases, with the former covering applications which would have been made some time ago, and the latter incorporating a 20-week wait between application and the conditional order. For new cases alone, the mean average time was 37 weeks.

The number of domestic violence remedy order applications decreased by six per cent compared to the equivalent quarter in 2022, while the number of orders made decreased by eight per cent over the same period.

In the latest quarter, time to first disposal for almost all case types decreased or remained similar to the equivalent period last year, whilst the time taken for divorce cases under the new legislation increased.

Orders made in the Court of Protection in 2023 reached the highest in its series (58,530), with a record number of Deprivation of Liberty orders made under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (5,276), representing the courts efforts to increase the number of orders made and clear backlogs.

The rollout of reform in family courts has introduced a new data management system, Core Case Data (CCD), to collect family data. As each service area undergoes reform, existing cases stay on the legacy system FamilyMan (FM) until they are disposed or closed, while new cases are recorded on CCD with some key details copied back to FM.

Currently, family public law (FPL) is undergoing this reform process. However, not all details are copied across for FPL (such as substantive orders other than final). Until work is completed to amalgamate both FM and CCD, several published data series cannot be maintained.

The latest divorce statistics for England and Wales provide several key takeaways for family lawyers, as the landscape of contemporary relationships has shifted in recent years.

After the introduction of the ‘no-fault’ divorce regime in 2022 there were predictions in the industry that divorce applications would increase. However, headline stats have shown that there was an apparent decrease in the amount of divorces.

The latest ONS figures are based on the number of divorces finalised in this period, rather than the number of divorces applied for.

Law firm Russell-Cooke LLP claim that the numbers might not be ‘giving the full picture’. They say that there ‘might be a genuine downturn in divorce’ but the minimum waiting period requirement with the ‘no-fault’ divorce could have an effect on the data. If couples opt to go with a ‘no-fault’ divorce then the bill states that both parties must have a minimum wait of 20 weeks between their application and conditional divorce, and then a further six week wait until the final divorce order. This means that application delays may play a part in the data optics.

The Family Law team at Russell-Cooke LLP commented: 

“We often see clients taking initial advice on separation to understand their position, and then subsequently delaying making life-altering decisions – particularly during times of uncertainty. Concerns such as job insecurity, the prospect of economic downturn and inflation, interest rates and house price instability can all be relevant factors for separating couples in deciding whether or when to separate.”

If a divorce was applied for under the new system, it would not have been possible to apply for the first stage of divorce – the Conditional Order (previously the Decree Nisi) – until August 24 2022. The earliest that any application for the Final Order (previously Decree Absolute) could have been submitted would have been 6 October 2022. The firm suggests that ‘many couples delay making this application until they have reached a financial settlement’. As a result, there were very few divorces applied for under the new system in the 2022 calendar year.

Figures from the Family Court Statistics Quarterly, show there were 115,000 divorce applications made during 2022 which is an increase from 113,000 in the previous year.

The firm has raised concerns that the actual divorce numbers is the evidence suggesting that not all couples who are divorcing obtain a court order formalising their financial arrangements, based on figures that show 39,000 financial remedy applications were complete – a decrease of 19% from the previous year.

 

Eve Tawfick, Editor

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