Divorce rates in England and Wales are at their lowest for 26 years, official figures showed yesterday. Office for National Statistics research found the number of people getting divorced had fallen for the third year running, down from 12.2 divorces per 1,000 married men and women in 2006 to 11.9 in 2007.
While the figure is the lowest since 1981, the number of twice-married men and women divorcing in 2007 had doubled over nearly 30 years. In 1980 one in 10 men and women divorcing had been divorced before, while the figure for last year was one in five.
The research also showed more people aged 60 and over, and couples in their mid to late 40s, split up. In 2007 there were 2.3 divorces for every 1,000 men aged 60 and over and 1.6 for every 1,000 women. The 2006 figures were 2.2 divorces for every 1,000 men and 1.4 for women.
Divorces in the 45 to 49 age group also increased, with more women than men getting divorced. In 2006 there were 14.9 divorces for every 1,000 married women aged 45 to 49, rising to 15.3 by 2007. For every 1,000 45 to 49-year-old married men in 2006 and 2007, 17.3 got divorced.
Marilyn Stowe, of Stowe Family Law, said the rise in “silver-haired divorce” may be linked to longer and healthier life. “People now have more energy in their later years and realise there is nothing left in their marriage once they have had their career and the children have left home.”
Stowe also suggested the recent economic crisis may have had an effect on divorce rates as “people just can’t afford to get divorced at the minute”.
Robert Kerr, of Grant Thornton’s forensic and investigation services, said the effect of high-profile “big money” cases such as Heather Mills’ divorce from Paul McCartney and an increase in cohabiting could explain the fall in divorces. He said that at a time of economic uncertainty, perhaps couples wanted to try to resolve difficulties before considering divorce.
Kerr said his firm’s survey of 100 family lawyers revealed women petitioning for divorce received a more favourable settlement than men. “It could be that husbands will think first before heading for the divorce courts, at least until the economic landscape settles, particularly as the housing market has been so badly affected in the last few months. Couples may think twice before divorcing and buying elsewhere.”
Relate cautioned against reading too much into the effects of the credit crunch on divorce figures. Jenny North, head of public policy for Relate, said: “The reality is that couples split up in all economic climates as we have seen throughout our 70-year history. Families urgently need easy access to emotional support to manage the fallout from conflict when they separate.”