still under peak

Divorce Rates in the UK Rise But Stay Well Below Their Peak

The year 2016 saw the number of divorces amongst opposite-sex couples rise by 5.8% to 106,959, although this is still about 30% off its 2003 peak of 153,065. When considering the reasons for this, three possibilities clearly stand out.

Practical difficulties of divorcing

Marriage is intended to be a lifelong commitment and exiting that commitment can lead to all kinds of expensive and challenging complications. While some of these could be reduced by the introduction of “no-fault” divorce, possibly together with a greater awareness of and clarity around pre-nuptial agreements (pre-nups), others are far more difficult to resolve.

The most obvious example of this is the division of property and the practical consequences of dividing a household, many of which revolve around the fact that adults living as a couple can generally live more cheaply than two individuals living in their own homes. These difficulties can increase exponentially with the arrival of children, particularly in their pre-school years, when the need for childcare is at its greatest.

Rise in cohabitation

When couples cohabit outside of marriage, they can go their separate ways without having to enter into formal divorce proceedings but this has both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, it means that couples without children can simply agree to part company and move on, while couples with children can make their own arrangements for their future care and maintenance. On the other hand, when couples split on less-than-amicable terms, this can lead to difficulties in dividing assets fairly.

For example, while there are certain situations in which a partner whose name is not on the deeds of a property may be held to have a “beneficial interest” therein, there are certain, specific, requirements to be met in order for this to be recognized, general help, financial or otherwise, is highly unlikely to qualify. Because of this, it is strongly recommended for co-habiting couples to have formal agreements in place regarding ownership of assets, at least significant ones such as property.

Later marriage

For much of history, people have been encouraged to marry as early as possible for a number of entirely practical reasons. Women, in particular, often needed to marry for economic reasons, as the novels of Jane Austen show only too clearly. In modern times, however, women have much greater opportunities for earning an income and as such are under less economic pressure to marry.

Similarly, the fact that women can now reasonably expect to be able to have children well into their late thirties and even early forties also reduces the need to marry at a younger age as does the fact that having children outside of marriage is, by and large, socially acceptable. Putting all of this together means that instead of marriage being the time when couples can formally start to live together, in their first home, it is more likely to be a milestone in a relationship after couples have already lived together for some time and, in simple terms, have already established that they can do so successfully, hence are less likely to divorce.

Fletcher Day are a full service law firm based in Mayfair, London. There team of divorce solicitors in London can advise on a range of matters relating to family law including divorce, prenuptial agreements, civil partnerships and separation agreements.