After six years of decline in the divorce figures, they are back on the rise again. The Office for National Statistics announced yesterday that divorces rose by almost 5% in 2010 on the previous year’s figures.

  • The average marriage now lasts just over 11 years.
  • Less than one in four couples marrying in 1970 (22%) divorced before their 15th wedding anniversary versus one third (33%) of 1995 marriages which have already ended in divorce.

Crises play their part in boosting the divorce figures, whether global or personal. On the global side, the continuing economic crisis with its higher unemployment, lack of job security and financial pressures add to the strains in a relationship tipping it over the edge. Waiting for a better time to divorce when there is more money to divide up may sound sensible in theory but emotions are more likely to take over and push a couple down the road to divorce.

As for the personal, there are key times of the greatest danger to a marriage. The latest statistics illustrate one very well. The number of divorces was highest amongst those aged between 40 and 44 years. The mid-life crisis is well recognised by all those dealing with divorcing couples.  Now there is statistical proof.

The other striking aspect of the ONS figures is that with marriages continuing to fall year on year, the number of married people as a percentage of the population continues to slide. In contrast, there are now estimated to be more than 2.2 million cohabiting couples in this country.

How much longer can the gulf between the financial remedies available on breakdown of the relationship to married people on the one hand and cohabitants on the other be considered just? In September, the Law Commission responded to the Government’s announcement that reform will not be implemented during the current Parliament. It noted the Government’s cautious response to its recommendations and expressed the hope that implementation of the reforms it had put forward back in 2007 will not be delayed beyond the early days of the next Parliament, in view of what it described as ‘the hardship and injustice caused by the current law’.

The Law Commission went on to say: ‘The prevalence of cohabitation, and of the birth of children to couples who live together, means that the need for reform of the law can only become more pressing over time.’

Amidst this gloom, it is however interesting to note that the attractiveness of marriage as a concept is not diminished. Around 20% of those marrying now have been married before. The government also announced on 17 September this year that a public consultation would commence in Spring 2012 with a view to potentially allowing same sex marriage by 2015. The continuing campaign for same sex couples to marry is despite the fact that if they enter into civil partnerships their rights on breakdown are the same as heterosexual married people. While the statistics look bad, marriage retains its allure.


Author: Grant Howell

Grant Howell is a family law partner at Charles Russell LLP and was the firm’s managing partner for eight years until 2007. Grant is recognised as a legal expert by Legal Business and in the Citywealth Leaders List 2011. He has also been named as a key individual in the field by Chambers Directory and is also recommended in Legal 500. He spent five years on the national committee of the family lawyers group Resolution.

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