Falling divorce rates

Posted by Laura Bennett on
It is being reported today, in The Telegraph, that the number of couples divorcing is now at the lowest rate for forty years, despite the fact that the number of marriages taking place has increased in recent years.

It was also reported on the BBC that despite this overall trend, there has been a rise in the number of people in their 50s divorcing – the so-called 'silver divorce.' Coincidentally, our Head of Practice Group, Christine Plews, commented on this in her recent article.

The falling divorce rate will be due to a number of factors. It is reported separately, that the average age at first marriage is 32 for men and 30 for women. According to information from Parliament UK, in 1988 the average age at which women married was 25 and in 1978 it was 23. On reflection, I think it is fair to say that if I had married the boy I was dating at the age of 23, I would have divorced him by now! Now I am older and wiser, at the grand old age of 29, I can see that I have changed even in the last five years and I think this is true of a lot of people. I am of an age when, a number of friends who have been in a relationship for a long time are splitting up, realising that they have grown apart as they have grown older, or that they now want different things and have different priorities, compared to five or six years ago. If those same friends had gotten married at the age of 23, they would now be facing divorce proceedings.

There has also been a significant rise in the number of people living together, before they marry, in the last twenty years. Moving in together is certainly a test of any relationship and is an opportunity to identify any difficulties in the relationship which arise from living together. It may be that this is also linked to the decreased divorce rate, as people are going into the marriage with their eyes open to the other's 'home habits', which they have either learned to live with or trained out of their partner!

It is also important to mention that, a significant number of families are headed by a cohabiting couple, rather than a married couple. Data from the Office of National Statistics, indicates that there has been a 30% increase in the number of cohabiting parents in the last decade. Whereas, it is easy to track the number of divorces granted through the court each year, there is no way to calculate how many of these relationships breakdown. A relationship breakdown is devastating for all involved, regardless of whether the adults are married or not. However, the treatment of an unmarried cohabitant in the eyes of the law is very different to the treatment of a married spouse. For more information, please see the article about the misleading phrase 'common law wife'.

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Laura is a Senior Solicitor in the Family team based in Oxford.

Laura Bennett
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