The number of divorces in England and Wales has fallen significantly in the last decade but I believe, it is absolutely not a cause for celebration. Rather more likely, one for great concern.
There were 111,169 divorces in 2014, according to new data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), a 27 per cent decrease from the most recent peak in 2003. It is also a 3.1 per cent drop from the previous year, when there were 114,720 divorces.
The number of men who ended their marriages in 2014 fell by the same amount as women. There were 9.3 divorced men per 1,000 married ones, a 5.1 per cent drop from 2013. Among women, the numbers were identical, with 9.3 divorcing per 1,000 married women. This represented the same 5.1 per cent fall from the previous year. Both of these figures represent significant drops from their peaks a decade earlier, when the divorce rate among men was 30.6 per cent higher and among women 29.5 per cent higher.
Whilst those figures may sound encouraging, do not be fooled into thinking couples are happier and fewer are divorcing.
Across all our offices year on year we have seen a steady rise in clients consulting us, which has increased substantially since the recession came to an end. So what’s really going on?
I believe in the years during which legal aid was being reduced and all but abolished in 2013, fewer people could afford legal advice. The disproportionate hike in court fees has hit home for many and I think far more people who are finding life tough enough are simply separating and doing nothing about sorting out their finances. Some are litigating on their own about children in court – and we know that the courts are getting clogged up with those cases because the Judges never seem to stop complaining about it. So the weaker party, probably the wife with children, is now more likely to turn to the state for financial help. What we are seeing, in fact, is most likely that the people who would have had legal aid are being left without a remedy whilst those that can afford it, get their lives sorted out as they have always done.
Meanwhile, according to the ONS, men in their late 40s were the age group most likely to divorce in 2014 – 18,718 did so – as were women in their early 40s, with 18,089. Women under the age of 44 divorced at a higher rate than men, but among 45 year olds and above men divorced more in 2014.
— Elizabeth McLaren (@StatsLiz) December 5, 2016
The average age for divorce has increased every year since 1985 the statistics show, and is now people who bring their marriage to an end are around eight years older on average.
As if to prove my point still further, that it is finance that drives the figures, those silver splitters are divorcing in increasing numbers. Nicola Haines works for the Vital Statistics Outputs Branch of the ONS. She said that “divorce rates in 2014 were lower for all age groups except women aged 55 and over” than they were a decade earlier. The increased number of couples cohabiting and a higher average age for first marriages could be contributing factors to this data, she suggested.
“Previous research indicates a higher risk of divorce among those marrying at younger ages, whilst cohabitation may be reducing the number of weaker relationships progressing to marriage.”
The average duration of a marriage was just under 12 years in 2014. This had not changed from 2013 but was a very slight increase from 2009 when the average was a little over 11 years. Since 1963, the average length of a marriage in England and Wales has been relatively stable, the ONS reports, with fluctuations between almost nine years and a little more than 12 years.