Latest stats from the Office of National Statistics reveal divorce rates in 2016 have increased for the first time in five years. There were 106,959 opposite-sex divorces in 2016, an increase of 5.8% compared with 2015. Here’s a summary of what the stats tell us:
Divorce rates among opposite-sex couples in 2016 were highest among men in their late 40’s and among women in their thirties. However, the stats show the most significant divorce rate increase was in couples over the age of 50. 13,000 women over the age of 55 and 19,454 men over 55 divorced in 2016. Increases for both sexes were double-digit percentage rises in rates per married population and raw numbers compared to 2015.
We have certainly seen this reflected in our customer profile at amicable. It really is the case that people sometimes just fall out of love when they’ve been married a long time. If the kids have left home and retirement is looming, the prospect of spending a lot more time together can force a couple to re-evaluate their relationship. Sadly, this is increasingly leading people to conclude they’d rather face the next chapter of their lives apart. Interestingly, Silver Splitters are a generation of amicable divorcees as they usually have large amounts of equity in their home/s and big pensions so there is often enough money to go around.
The rise of men asking for divorce has increased from 27.7% in 1992 to 39% in 2016. There are a couple of things that might be driving this increase. One is the rising cost of filing a divorce petition – now standing at a whopping £550 leading to couples agreeing that the higher earner (sadly still more likely to be male) will petition. The second driver is the increased use of online services. Technology makes filing for divorce more accessible and means no one needs to take time off work to go to a traditional high street solicitor. Online services and apps reduce the need to interact face to face with a third party to discuss personal and intimate parts of your life. This may be helping men to actively engage in resolving their relationship issues rather than sitting it out and waiting for their partner to act.
Unreasonable behaviour is still the primary reason couples used for divorce in 2016. From the thousands of couples, we’ve helped, the most common hurdle couples face when deciding to divorce is entering into the legal system’s ‘blame game’. Couples sometimes just reach a crossroads in their marriage when it’s over but not necessarily anyone’s ‘fault’. The other reasons you can use to divorce in England and Wales are usually not applicable so couples are forced to cite unreasonable behaviour to separate. This often creates tension as it relies on one person blaming the other and writing a narrative of ‘bad behaviour’. Once couples read an unreasonable behaviour petition, the likelihood of them falling out increases and so does their likelihood of needing to use the court to sort out their divorce arrangements. The government is desperately trying to keep people out of court and is encouraging them to find alternative solutions like amicable to solve disputes. However, by refusing to legislate for no-fault divorce, the government is working against itself. The most recent figures from ONS, conversations with our customers and wide support from solicitors, make an overwhelming and compelling case for a no-fault divorce option.
One positive from the figures is the average duration of marriages ending in divorce reached 12 years last year – the second highest figure on record. The only other time this figure was at this level was in 1972. This is probably because the age of getting married is also rising and so marriage is becoming a more considered option. Many more people ‘try before they buy’ and live together first before committing to marriage. This acts as a filter system meaning only the strongest relationships ‘survive’ and go on to the marrying stage.
What the figures don’t show, but is perhaps one of the biggest and most important trends is the increasing number of parents who separate wanting to do things amicably. We see increasing numbers of enquiries from people asking us to help them bypass the adversarial legal process and do things pragmatically and putting their kids first. The cost of the current failed system of divorce is £48bn a year (more than the defence budget). Helping people get it right and divorcing amicably is a mission not just for us, but for society and government alike. If you have any views on the above, we’d love to hear your comments below.