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Current divorce rates: Supporting the path to no-fault divorce

Nearly half of the divorces between opposite sex couples in 2020 followed a period of separation between the parties.

We all know that divorce law is changing in April 2022, with the much-heralded Divorce Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 due to end the ‘blame game’ for thousands of couples.

On 1 February 2022, the office of national statistics released the latest statistics for divorce rates between same sex and opposite sex couples (excluding dissolution of civil partnerships).

Do they support a move to ‘no fault’ divorce?

The figures show:

  1. For over five decades, since the last fundamental reform of divorce law in the 1970s, there have been over 100,000 divorces each year, (save for in 2018 when the figure dropped to approximately 91,000).
  2. The peak was in 1993, when over 165,000 divorces were granted to opposite sex couples. (Marriages of same-sex couples first took place on 29 March 2014 and the first divorces between same-sex couples were granted in 2015).
  3. In 2020 there were 103,592 divorces granted in England and Wales, a decrease of 4.5% compared with 2019.

Grounds for divorce

The statistics also detail the bases upon which the 2020 divorce petitions were issued, (often called a ‘ground’ for divorce, or a ‘fact’).

Using the figures for opposite sex concluded in 2020:

  • 42% of divorces were granted based on the behaviour of the other party, (43,194 out of 102,438);
  • 47% of divorces were granted after a period of separation; 30,720 divorces were granted after the parties had been separated for over 2 years (and both parties agreed to the divorce), and 18,079 divorces were granted after over 5 years’ separation, (48,799 out of 102,438).

Divorces based on behaviour

Resolution, the community of family justice professionals who work with families and individuals to resolve issues in a constructive manner, has previously said:

“The current mutual consent divorce requires couples to have been separated for a minimum of two years. Most couples do not wish or cannot afford to put their lives on hold for this length of time. If they want to get their divorce so that they can plan for the future, they have no option other than to allege adultery or ‘behaviour’. They become involved in a ‘blame game’ – this can often serve as a prompt for couples to revisit painful moments in the marriage which ultimately led to its breakdown… it introduces and/or escalates conflict from the outset of the divorce process, making it harder for people to make agreements about children and/or finance issues.”

For many couples alleging the fault of the other party as a basis for divorce when they would prefer not to attribute blame, the reform to a ‘no fault’ divorce system cannot come soon enough.

Divorces based on separation

It is noteworthy that nearly half of the divorces between opposite sex couples in 2020 followed a period of separation between the parties. The majority of those couples divorced by agreement, supporting a ‘no fault’ divorce system.

The new divorce law will reduce the period of separation significantly.

Falling divorce rates?

The number of marriages is falling, with an increasing number of the population choosing to live together rather than tie the knot or enter a civil partnership. See our update on family groups in England and Wales, it follows that divorce rates will drop too.

Whether the 2021 figures will follow suit will be interesting. The COVID pandemic and lockdown in the UK began in March 2020, and the recently published figures are in respect of divorces completed during 2020. Many divorces commenced during 2020 - post COVID - may not have been resolved during that time period.

Conversely, other couples may be consciously delaying divorce until ‘no fault’ divorce is implemented in the spring.

What do I need to know about the new ‘no fault’ divorce?

See our article on the law relating to divorce and civil partnership for a detailed exploration of the main issues that need to be considered, identifying the primary changes in the process and the advantages and disadvantages of waiting to issue a divorce petition until April 2022 when the provisions of the new Act will have been implemented.

For more information on no-fault divorce, contact our divorce and separation team.

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