A week in family law: “Lies, damned lies and statistics”

Family Law|Industry News | 28 Sep 2018 0

Hopefully, Benjamin Disraeli’s famous phrase (if it was indeed him who first said it) does not apply to the last week’s family law news, which was almost entirely about statistics.

First up, we heard from the Marriage Foundation that UK divorce rates among newlyweds have dropped to their lowest levels in thirty years, as I mentioned here in this post. The proportion of couples divorcing after three years has apparently more than halved since rates peaked in 1993. For couples married for five years, divorce is down by well over a third, while for couples who have been together for ten years, it is down by a fifth. The Marriage Foundation says that the drop is almost entirely a result of fewer women filing for divorce, suggesting, they say, that husbands are embracing their share of the responsibility for making a marriage work. Hmm.

Commenting on the figures Harry Benson, research director of the Marriage Foundation, said:

“Among all the talk of divorce and law reform, it’s easy to miss the good news story that today’s marriages are more stable than at any time since the 1970s. Some level of relationship failure is inevitable. But today’s falling divorce rates contrast with the far higher break-up rate among couples who don’t marry. This new research shows that higher levels of family stability can be achieved if we embrace commitment. If you want reliable love, the odds are even more stacked in your favour if you get married. Don’t put up with mere cohabitation. Marriage is the real thing.”

So there we are – you have been told.

Next up, we had some statistics from the ManKind Initiative, the charity which supports male victims of domestic abuse, about the reporting of domestic abuse by male victims.

Figures obtained by the charity under Freedom of Information requests from 41 police forces across England and Wales showed that 158,974 men reported to them as being victims of domestic abuse in 2017. This was one in four of all victims where the gender of the victim was recorded. A further 9,842 men reported the same in Scotland. Of the 43 Police authorities in England and Wales which were sent the Freedom of Information request by the charity, 37 provided figures for 2012 and last year. On that like for like basis, the figures rose from 72,157 in 2012 to 149,248 in 2017 – more than double in five years.

Mark Brooks, Chair of the ManKind Initiative, is quoted as saying:

“These figures are both shocking yet welcome. They show the level of domestic abuse against men and the growing confidence they have in coming forward. Friends, family and work colleagues are also playing a key part in supporting them and many police forces are actively encouraging men to report. These figures should act as a spur for even more men to reach out as many feel they are the only man in the world this has ever happened to and they suffer in silence behind their front door. They now know they are not alone.”

As I said here, it’s good to see that the issue of domestic abuse against men is, at last, coming out into the open.

Thirdly, we had more statistics on divorce, this time official ones from the Office for National Statistics (‘ONS’), giving the figures for divorces in England and Wales last year (or is this where the Marriage Foundation got its figures?). The main points included that there were 101,669 divorces of opposite-sex couples in England and Wales in 2017, a decrease of 4.9% compared with 2016; that there were 8.4 divorces of opposite-sex couples per 1,000 married men and women aged 16 years and over, representing the lowest divorce rates since 1973 and a 5.6% decrease from 2016; and that ‘unreasonable behaviour’ was the most common reason for opposite-sex couples divorcing, with 52% of wives and 37% of husbands petitioning on these grounds.

Nicola Haines of the Vital Statistics Outputs Branch at the ONS commented:

“Divorce rates for opposite-sex couples in England and Wales are at their lowest level since 1973, which is around forty per cent lower than their peak in 1993. However, among older people rates are actually higher in 2017 than in 1993 – perhaps due to the fact we have an increasingly ageing population and people are getting married later in life.”

Finally, not to be outdone the Ministry of Justice has published the latest quarterly statistics for the Family Court, for the period April to June 2018. The main points here included that the number of cases starting in the family courts increased, with 68,141 new cases being started in that period, up 7% on April to June 2017, and driven by an 18% rise in matrimonial cases starting; and that the number of divorce petitions had also increased, with 32,230 divorce petitions being made during April to June 2018, up 18% on April to June 2017 – the highest quarterly figure since the start of 2013, following a long period of stability.

And that, I think, is quite enough statistics for one week. Have a good weekend.

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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