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Divorce Statistics

Conventional wisdom goes that around 50% of marriages end in divorce and many people believe divorce rates have increased in recent years. In fact, divorce rates are at their lowest levels in over 40 years and the divorce rate seems to be continuing to fall.

The infographic below contains a number of interesting divorce statistics for UK couples living in England and Wales, while the text below goes into more detail about these statistics and what they mean.

Divorce Statistics

How many marriages end in divorce?

According to recent divorce statistics, 42% of marriages in England and Wales end in divorce. 102,007 couples divorced in 2017 (the most recent year for which official statistics are currently available). Of these divorcing couples, 101,669 were opposite-sex couples and 338 were same-sex couples. 

The number of opposite-sex divorces fell 4.9% in 2017 compared to 2016, while the number of same-sex divorces more than tripled (although this is to be expected since same-sex marriage was only legalised in 2014). Overall, there has been a fall in the percentage of marriages ending in divorce since 2000, thought to be because people are tending to get married when they are older and have already cohabited.

When is a divorce most likely?

The divorce rate for opposite sex couples is highest for men aged 45-49 and women aged 40-44. This likely reflects that fact that men tend on average to marry younger women.

60% of opposite-sex marriages end before the 20th wedding anniversary with the average (median) length of marriage at the time of divorce being 12.2 years for opposite sex couples.

How often do second marriages end in divorce?

Recent UK divorce statistics show that people who have been married before are much less likely to get divorced if they marry again. 59% of divorces involve partners for whom this was their first marriage, while 18% have one partner who had been previously divorced and just 8% of divorces have both partners having been married before.

Current trends in divorce

6 in 10 (62%) of divorces between heterosexual couples are initiated by the wife. 74% of same-sex divorces in 2017 were for female couples.

Civil partnership dissolutions

1,217 civil partnership dissolutions were granted in 2017, which is a 53% increase compared to figures from 2012. Since the introduction of same-sex marriage in 2014, there has been a significant fall in the number of civil partnerships being formed, with same sex couples likely opting for marriage instead.

The cost of divorce

There are four main costs associated with getting divorced:

  1. Court fees
  2. Legal fees
  3. Any financial settlement you must pay to your spouse
  4. Any child maintenance you are required to pay

Court fees will vary depending on where you are in the UK and exactly how the divorce proceeds. Filing a divorce petition in England and Wales currently costs £550, while if you want to create a legally binding financial agreement you have both consented to, this will cost £100. Getting a court to decide how your finances are divided for you will cost £255. If you are on benefits or a low income, you may be able to get help with the cost of court fees for getting divorced.

Legal fees will include the cost of retaining a solicitor to advise you on the legal aspects of your divorce, as well as their fees for representing you in negotiations or in court.

A financial settlement may require you to give cash or other assets to your former spouse, or pay on-going maintenance.  You can agree this settlement privately, with the assistance of your solicitors, or in court.

Any child maintenance you have to pay will depend on your income, the number of children you have, any benefits you receive (including income support, incapacity benefit or a state pension) and how many other children live in your household.

Family breakdown is also thought to have a significant cost for UK taxpayers. In 2018, this cost was estimated at £51 billion, including the cost of single parent benefits, collecting maintenance payments and providing for children in care, as well as the estimated impact on healthcare, education and criminal justice spending.

Why do people get divorced?

The most commonly reason cited when people petition for divorce is “unreasonable behaviour”. This is used as the main reason by 83% of wives petitioning for divorce and 73% of husbands initiating proceedings. Unreasonable behaviour covers a wide range of things, from lack of emotional support or a sexual relationship, to refusing to contribute financially and more serious actions, such as domestic abuse.

Other potential reasons for divorce include adultery, desertion (where a person has abandoned their spouse without their consent for at least 2 years out of the previous 2.5 years) and being separated for 2 years (with both parties consent) or 5 years (even if the non-petitioning party does not consent).

One explanation for why unreasonable behaviour is so commonly used is because it can allow people to get divorced quickly. All other options (except adultery) require you to wait before you can legally end your marriage. Because there is no such thing as a “no fault” divorce in the UK, couples need to prove their marriage has broken down and place blame in order to move forward. Unless one of the parties is willing to admit to adultery, one or both of the married couple agreeing to unreasonable behaviour is often the simplest, fastest way to end a marriage.

Why is the divorce rate falling?

There are various reasons suggested for the fall in divorce rates in recent years. Although there is no way to know for certain, the change is likely to be at least partially due to a combination of factors.

One common theory is that because more people are cohabiting before getting married, they have a better idea of whether marriage will work for them, before committing to tie the knot. Another possible reason is that many people are getting married when they are older, meaning they are more mature and have more relationship experience. This may leave people more likely to make better choices about who to marry and know how to handle any conflict within a marriage better.

One thing to bear in mind, however, is that these statistics only include people who are married or in civil partnerships. There are no official figures for the number of cohabiting couples who separate and the fact that this is the fastest growing type of household in the UK likely plays a significant role in the falling rate of divorce.

Who collects divorce statistics for UK couples?

The Office for National Statistics collects divorce statistics based on information from the Courts and Tribunal Service recorded during the divorce process for each individual couple. These figures are for England and Wales and record both divorces and annulments (where the marriage was not legally valid in the first place).

Get expert legal advice for your divorce

Crisp & Co’s expert divorce solicitors have many years of experience helping people to manage the end of their marriages and civil partnerships. We know how confusing, stressful and emotionally taxing divorce can be, as well as the concerns about children and finances that come with ending a relationship.

We can advise you on all aspects of getting divorced, helping you to separate from your former partner as quickly and cost-effectively as possible, while minimising the potential for conflict.

Our family law team contains a number of experts in mediation and collaborative law who can help you follow a non-confrontational approach to your divorce wherever possible, minimising the emotional fallout and the risks of lasting acrimony between you and your former spouse. This can be especially important where you have children who you will need to continue co-parenting together.

However, where court action is the best or only option to pursue your divorce, we have the expertise and experience to put together the strongest possible case for you, to help ensure you get a fair settlement.

To discuss your needs with one of our expert divorce solicitors, call us today on 0208 546 7969 or use the simple enquiry form below for a swift response.


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