Divorce Rates Plummet by Over a Third as We Investigate New Relationship Trends


Here at Hylton Potts, we’ve dealt with every side of divorce thanks to our years of expertise. We’ve talked couples through everything from the important of prenuptial agreements, to helping them reach a civil and fair end to their relationship. As part of our ongoing dedication to our customers and our constant commitment to delivering only the highest standards, we take research into this area of law very seriously. It can be a highly complex and worrying thing to face on your own, which is why we’ll always take the time to report the most crucial developments to you.

The most recent story relating to the divorce courts is that the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has released their latest figures on divorce rates for the country. According to their report, the figure has plummeted by over a third since the divorce rate peak of 2003, and by almost a tenth compared to last year’s figures. But why have we seen a drop? Could there be a new trend emerging? We consider the relationships behind the figures and consider what this means for you…

What’s the story?

On June 21st, the ONS released their survey results detailing the most recent marriage statistics, and it’s had family law practices up and down the country talking about it. According to the report, the main points to consider are as follows:

  • There has been a decrease in the number of divorces (101,055) of opposite sex couples in 2015, by 9% since 2014, and 34% from the most recent peak in 2003.
  • Amongst same sex couples, there were 22 divorces across 2015, however it should be noted that marriages and divorces of same sex couples have only been possible in England and Wales since 29 March 2014.
  • The male divorce rate for opposite sex couples in 2015 decreased to 8.5 men divorcing per 1,000 married males. This is 8.6% lower than 2014, and 37% lower than its most recent peak in 2004.
  • The female divorce rate for opposite sex couples in 2015 decreased to 8.5 women divorcing per 1,000 married females. This is 8.6% lower than 2014, and 36% lower than its most recent peak in 2004.
  • The age range at which divorce rates are at their highest among opposite sex couples was 40 to 44 years.

There is not a huge difference in the percentage decrease here for men or women – the most staggering fact is the sheer drop in the number of divorces occurring across the board. So, what could the reason for this be? Several legal professionals and academics think they know the answer…

Is cohabitation to blame?

There are a variety of reasons why the marriage rate could be falling. For one, the decline in divorce is consistent with the decline in the number of people getting married – it could be that couples are steering away from the premise of marriage altogether, seeing it as an outmoded form of dedication to a partner. Or perhaps it’s the sheer level of financial and legal obligation that’s involved in marriage. Evidence suggests that cohabiting couples are more likely to break up than married pairs, so perhaps cautious partners don’t feel the need to tie themselves to one another, just in case things don’t work out.

However, another reason could simply be the shedding of the stigma of divorce. The older generations looked on divorcees almost as social outcasts, yet with the changing times, this is no longer the case, and those reasons why one might consider divorce, such as unreasonable behaviour, are now thought to be acceptable. The ONS sited unreasonable behaviour as the most common reason for divorce, with over a third of husbands (37%) and over half (52%) of wives accusing their spouse of acting unreasonably enough to warrant a divorce.

Most notably however, many experts have been quick to point the finger at the rise in cohabitation as the major factor towards the decline. Harry Benson, Research Director of the Marriage Foundation, lent his support to this argument when he told the press: “Divorce rates have now fallen for the eleventh year running for couples completing their first five years of marriage. This represents a fall of 42% over the first five years of marriage, compared to the peak years of divorce in the early 1990s.

“Despite this fantastic improvement in stability, Britain continues to lead the developed world in family instability. Nearly half of all our teenagers do not live with both natural parents. The explanation for this paradox is that ever more couples are cohabiting but not committing. Cohabiting parents now account for one in five parents yet more than half of all family breakdown. The stability that marriage brings protects couples against splitting up, protects health and well-being, and supports children’s education.”

When we look at the facts, it’s true that the number of cohabiting couples has more than doubled over the past 20 years – between 1996 and 2016, the figure jumped from 1.5 million to 3.3 million, making it the fastest-growing family type.

Cohabitation agreements and prenups

So, what do all these facts and figures mean for you? Usually, when we talk about relationship security and stability, we discuss the benefits of a prenuptial agreement, and the huge ramifications of not having one in place should your marriage turn sour.

However, with a lot of people steering clear of marriage, this opens up a whole new set of possible challenges for couples – contrary to popular belief, just because you’re not married doesn’t mean you don’t have properties, vested interests or joint accounts that could throw up problems. What happens to these assets should you decide split?

This is where the cohabitation agreement comes into play, and it’s similar to a prenuptial agreement in that it’s a legal document which describes the current circumstances of the couple in terms of finances and so forth, but which also details what should happen in future. For example, if you buy a house with your partner and the house is in their name, but you’ve contributed a huge amount to the running and upkeep of that property, a cohabitation agreement can detail this, ensuring that you get your share of the property once it is sold.

Just like prenups, cohabitation agreements should be considered a vital part of a relationship that involves cross ownership of assets. It’s merely a precaution, to ensure that if the worst comes to the worst, you won’t walk away with nothing. Given that the divorce rate is on the decline, as is the marriage rate, it could be that we see a rise in this kind of documentation being drafted.

We have years of experienced working with couples at every stage of their relationship, whether it’s to help provide security or help reach a fair arrangement following a divorce. Our dedicated team is always on hand to give you advice, and you can call us on 020 7381 8111, or email us at law@hylton-potts.com.

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