Lowest Divorce Figures in Decades, but why are Family Law Cases are Rising?

While everyone else has been eating until they burst and drinking until they’re merry over the festive season, we at Hylton-Potts have still been keeping our ear to the ground when it comes to bringing you the latest news from the complex world of family law.

At this time of year, when people look to the future and possibly reconsider their current situation in life, it is known widely as a time when divorce rates spike.

However, it appears that 2017 is already off to a good start for couples, as the Office for National Statistics revealed a huge drop in divorce rates towards the very end of last year – in fact, divorce figures have fallen to a 40-year low.

This data was collected from cases put to the courts in 2014, which saw a total of 111,169 divorces. This is a decrease of 3.1% when compared to 2013, but a huge drop of 27% when put against 2003.

The impact of people waiting longer to get married is also evident, as the average age for divorce has gone up from 45.1 to 45.6 for men and from 42.6 to 43.1 for women. Men and women aged under 20 have also recorded the greatest percentage decrease in divorce rates since 2004 with a huge decline of 84% for men and 80% for women.

Family Law Cases and Cohabitation

To shed some light on what these statistics mean for the profession, many legal firms and their representatives have been quick to highlight that, if anything, they have seen a rise in family law disputes. Marilyn Stowe for example, Senior Partner at Stowe Family Law, told the press that, in her firm’s experience, instructions from divorcing clients are increasing across the country.

Instead, she suggested that the statistics couple be attributed to cuts to legal aid, as more people are unable to instruct a lawyer due to cost or feeling ill-equipped to go it alone in court.

However, Hazel Wright, a Partner at Hunters, disagrees. It’s a well-known fact amongst the legal community that cohabiting couple families are the fastest growing family type in the UK. In fact, according to last year’s ONS figures, 3.3 million such families were documented across 2016, more than double the 1.5 million recorded in 1996.

Wright attributes this as the factor responsible for the rise in family law cases, but decline in divorces, as she has seen an upturn in work from cohabiting couples, as well as disputes over money on divorce. This could explain the above figures where people are waiting longer to marry.

She told the press: “Divorce work is straightforward, but these statistics do not address the ways in which families sort out their finances or the arrangements for their children, following separation of the adults. These form the bulk of the work for divorce lawyers, and that workload is not changing.”

Nicola Haines, of the Vital Statistics Output Branch at ONS, also suggested that “cohabitation may be reducing the number of weaker relationships progressing to marriage”. On the one hand, it could be the case that more people are choosing to “try out” the strength of their relationship first by cohabiting, removing the lengthy and painful legal side of a divorce if they decide to split.

However, they could also simply be choosing not to marry in the first place, particularly if one or both parties have had a previous divorce and they are aware of how difficult and expensive a process it can be.

The Rise of the ‘Silver-Splitters’

Another interesting trend found within these statistics is that women aged 55 and over are the only group to have seen a rise in the divorce rate over the past decade, which has led experts to coin the phrase ‘silver-splitters’ for the sector.

Although divorce among men declined in all age groups, rates for women increased by 1.9%, for ages 55 to 59. Rates have decreased less dramatically at older ages too, meaning that older generations are steadily making up a greater proportion of overall divorce numbers.

Marilyn Stowe also commented on this, stating that the increase here was most likely due to greater financial stability in later life. “Finances could well be the key,” she said, “and if that is the case, the figures could mask a great deal of social injustice that access to legal aid used to alleviate.”

Commenting on the concept of the ‘silver-splitters’, as well as other divorce trends, Clare Wiseman, Family and Divorce Lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, told the press: “The divorce rates show that the average age of divorcees is continuing to rise partly because the attitudes of modern society towards divorce have become more relaxed in the past 10-20 years. Most divorcees are now in their 40s.

“People are recognising that they don’t have to stay in unhappy relationships and the number of dating websites and groups that are aimed at older people show that it is possible to build new relationships no matter what age you divorce. Having said that, the stats show that once a marriage lasts 20 years, there is a much greater chance the couple will stay together. The first 10 years remain the most likely time that a divorce will occur.

“Long term, the statistics show that divorce rates generally are continuing to decline, which may reflect the fact that more people are cohabiting first. Same sex marriage was first legally allowed in 2014 so in the next batch of statistics for the years following this we may start to see same-sex divorce reported on for the first time.”

We understand that there are a multitude of reasons why you could have decided to divorce from your partner, and we’re here to help. However, it could also be the case that you’re a cohabiting couple, and you’d like to know what the implications are if you split.

Whether you’re in the process of getting divorced and you’d like to speak to one of our legal experts, or you’re considering your options at this point, the best thing to do is to seek our advice as soon as possible. You can call us on 020 7381 8111, or email us at [email protected].

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