Lowest divorce rate for 26 years due to 'uncertainty'

Divorce figures for England and Wales have fallen to their lowest rate for 26 years because marriage has become such an unattractive option, a top UK divorce lawyer says...

British matrimonial and family lawyer Ayesha Vardag (www.ayeshavardag.com) says celebrity divorces, changing social attitudes and an unhelpful legal system are all contributing to a decline in marriages and divorce.

“Rates have fallen not because couples are staying together and working out their differences, but because marriage has become so unattractive,“ Vardag of Strand-based Ayesha Vardag Solicitors says.

“With all the recent publicity about huge divorce payouts there’s a sense that if you get married you give the courts a blank cheque to sort out your affairs in a way that you have little or no control over.“

Couples in other countries can legally agree on what would happen in the event of divorce by signing pre- or post-nuptial agreements, but these are not legally binding in UK.

“We want to provide certainty for couples so they can regulate their own affairs, but the law isn’t backing us up,“ Vardag says. “The result is that England offers a veritable ’gold digger’s charter’ when it comes to divorce.“

The increasingly popular alternative of living together creates its own problems too.

“Co-habitation doesn’t give either party much in the way of legal rights in the event of a break-up,“ Vardag explains.

“The huge gulf between the position of being married and cohabiting works strongly in favour of the partner with the money, meaning they will resist marriage.“

Changing social attitudes towards marriage and children in recent decades are also a factor, according to Vardag.

“The 60s decoupled sex and marriage and the 80s and 90s decoupled children and marriage, so from the 80s onwards, it has become socially acceptable for people to have children without being married. Unless there are significant religious or cultural reasons, most people just don’t see the point anymore”.

The 2007 divorce figures released by the Office for National Statistics today showed the provisional divorce rate in England and Wales fell for a third consecutive year, reaching its lowest level since 1981.

• The divorce rate fell to 11.9 divorces per thousand married men and women compared with the 2006 figure of 12.2.

• Compared with 2006, divorce rates in England and Wales for both men and women fell across most age groups. However, rates increased for men and women aged 60 and over, and also for women aged between 45 and 49.

• For the sixth consecutive year both men and women in their late twenties had the highest divorce rates of all five-year age groups. In 2007 there were 26.6 divorces per 1,000 married men aged 25-29 and 26.9 divorces per 1,000 married women aged 25-29.

• The provisional number of divorces in England and Wales fell for the fourth year in succession to 128,534 in 2007, a drop of 3 per cent compared with 132,562 in 2006. This is the lowest number since 1976 when there were 126,694 divorces.

• The average (median) duration of marriage for divorces granted in 2007 increased to 11.7 years compared with the 2006 level of 11.6 years.

• One in five men and women divorcing in 2007 had a previous marriage ending in divorce. This proportion has doubled in 27 years: in 1980 one in ten men and women divorcing had a previous marriage ending in divorce.

• Of those divorces granted to a sole party in 2007, 68 per cent of divorces were granted to wives and in 54 per cent of these cases the husband’s behaviour was the fact proven. For 33 per cent of divorces granted to the husband the fact proven was the wife’s behaviour.

• Over half (51 per cent) of couples divorcing in 2007 had at least one child aged under 16. There were 117,193 children aged under 16 who were in families where the parents divorced in 2007. Twenty per cent of these children were under five and 63 per cent were under eleven. These are the same percentages that were observed in 2006.

• There was a similar increase in the average (mean) age at divorce for both men and women in 2007. For women it increased from 40.9 years in 2006 to 41.2 in 2007, for men the increase was from 43.4 years in 2006 to 43.7 in 2007.

• The provisional number of divorces in the United Kingdom fell by 2.6 per cent in 2007 to 144,220 compared with 148,141 in 2006.

• The provisional number of divorces in Scotland fell by 1.9 per cent from 13,014 in 2006 to 12,773 in 2007. However, the provisional number of divorces in Northern Ireland increased. In 2007, there were 2,913 divorces, 14 per cent more than in 2006 when there were 2,565.

• There were 42 civil partnership dissolutions granted in the UK in 2007, of which 14 were to male couples and 28 to female couples.