BBC News

More than 100,000 divorces in England and Wales last year

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The number of couples getting divorced in England and Wales surged by almost a fifth in 2019 to the highest level in five years, figures reveal.

The Office for National Statistics data shows 107,599 opposite-sex divorces in 2019, an increase of 18.4% from 90,871 in 2018 - the highest since 2014, when 111,169 were granted.

There were also 822 same-sex divorces, nearly twice the number (428) in 2018.

The ONS said a casework backlog in 2018 could partly account for the increase.

Unreasonable behaviour was the most common reason for divorce, cited by 49% of wives and 35% of husbands in heterosexual marriage, in 63% of female same-sex divorces and and 70% of male ones.

At the moment, in order to divorce, either one spouse has to allege adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion by the other.

Currently, a person can apply for a divorce if both parties agree and they have been separated from their spouse for two years. Someone wishing to obtain a divorce without the consent of their spouse must live apart from them for five years.

This is expected to change with the introduction of the "no-fault" divorce next autumn, after which they will only have to state that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.

The number of same-sex divorces has increased each year, reflecting the increasing size of the same-sex married population since March 2014 when the law changed to allow them to marry, the ONS says.

Of the 822 same-sex divorces last year, almost three-quarters were between female couples, a similar proportion to in 2018.

Meanwhile the divorce rate among opposite-sex couples last year increased to 8.9 divorces per 1,000 married people, from 7.5 in 2018. The median length time for those marriages to have lasted before divorce was 12.3 years.

The ONS said last year's increase in divorces was the largest in percentage terms increase since 1972, when the recent introduction of the Divorce Reform Act 1969 made it easier for couples to divorce.

But there has been an overall downward trend since the most recent peak of 153,065 divorces in 2003, the ONS said, with opposite-sex divorces in 2019 still 30% lower than in that year.

This was broadly consistent with an overall decline in the number of marriages between 2003 and 2009, it said, adding: "Changes in attitudes to cohabitation as an alternative to marriage or prior to marriage, particularly at younger ages, are likely to have been a factor affecting the general decrease in divorce rates since 2003."

The latest figures come as family lawyers have predicted a "post-lockdown divorce boom" amid warnings the coronavirus pandemic is putting a strain on relationships.

Advice charity Citizens Advice said divorce guidance searches had risen since April after a drop in visits when lockdown started.

It said views of its divorce webpage on the first September weekend were up 25% compared with the same date in 2019.

Tom MacInnes, chief analyst for Citizens Advice, said: "We know that this pandemic has put an enormous strain on people financially but our data shows that strain is also being felt in people's relationships."

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