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Is Divorce on the Decline?

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) have confirmed that in 2022, divorce rates were the lowest they had been since 1971 and saw a 29.5% decrease from the previous year.

Possibly not coincidentally, in April 2022, divorce law in the UK changed to a ‘no fault’ basis; considerably simplifying the process of divorce and removing the requirement for blame.

The change to divorce law is regularly attributed to the decline in divorce rates and it is easy to see why, but is that all there is to it?

It is important to note that the above statistics relate to the number of divorces that had been granted in 2022, not applied for. This data may therefore include divorces that were applied for prior to the change in law but were not granted until after. They also do not necessarily account for reconciliation after applying for divorce, which admittedly could be influenced by the less hostile nature of the ‘new’ process.

Some may argue that the reform in the law may actually encourage more divorce applications, not less! People may have previously delayed dealing with their separation formally due to the associated legal costs but since the process of divorce was simplified, parties are becoming increasingly prepared to dispense with legal advice and as such, legal fees.

Where parties are confident to deal with the process themselves, it is perfectly understandable that they do so. However, consideration should be given to the matrimonial finances as the divorce process only acts to formally end the legal contract created by the marriage ceremony, it does not serve to dismiss any financial claims that have been created by virtue of marriage. It is prudent for parties to seek legal advice in respect of the finances, even if content to DIY the divorce.

Divorce law is not the only thing to evolve, and people are considering ways of living and loving, without the need for marriage.

The ONS have also published statistics to confirm that in 2022, 18% of all families were from a cohabiting household which equates to 3.6million couples. This has risen from 2.9million since 2012. The ONS states that ‘the increase of almost 700,000 families accounted for almost three-quarters of the total growth in the number of families in the UK over the ten-year period’.

It is clear from the above statistics that there is a significant increase in the number of people choosing to live together without the intention to marry. If less marriages take place, less divorces will be granted, and this is likely to have had an impact on the ONS statistics for divorce, possibly more so than the change to divorce law.

Cohabiting couples do not enjoy the same legal status as those who are married, no matter how long they have lived together, and the concept of ‘common law marriage’ does not exist in UK law.

It is therefore prudent for parties to set their intentions in writing when they live together to protect their respective interests should their relationship break down. This written record is known as a ‘cohabitation agreement’.

Where a cohabiting relationship breaks down, the law around property rights is complex and mediation is a helpful process to assist in these discussions, without expensive litigation. Mediation can also assist in resolving matters in relation to divorce, children and co-parenting.

At Band Hatton Button, our lawyers are all members of Resolution – First for Family Law and will help you resolve matters in a conciliatory way. We also have an Accredited Family Mediator who can assist with all types of Family Mediation.

For more information visit the family pages of our website by clicking here or call the Family team for initial help with no obligation on 024 7630 9307.

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