Despite an increase in divorce, are UK marriages now stronger?

According to data released by the Office for National Statistics, the divorce rate in England and Wales has fallen by over twenty per cent in comparison to ten years ago. This fall would suggest that marriage in the UK is stronger than it has been for a generation, despite the fact that divorce rates rose slightly in the wake of the current recession.

The number of failed marriages within the first ten years is at its lowest rate since the generation of couples who got married during the miners’ strike in the 1980s. Younger people seem to be driving the trend towards stable marriages, as the rates of divorce are falling across all age groups up to 50 years old for men, and 45 years old for women.

In contrast to this increase in stability, there continues to be a rise in the number of so-called ‘silver separators’ with the number of over-60s seeking divorce up by three per cent in just one year, and up by 45 per cent over a decade.

The data shows that overall in 2012 in England and Wales there were 118,140 divorces, an annual increase of only 582 nationwide which is equivalent to just 0.5 per cent. This follows a similar reduction in the number of divorces in 2011 which means that the trend in recent years is flat.

As we reported in one of our recent blog posts, adultery as a cause for divorce has also fallen to a record low, with just 14 per cent of per cent of dissolutions granted on the grounds of adultery to wives during 2012. ‘Unreasonable behaviour’ by husbands is now cited by more than half of women filing for divorce.

Despite the fact that the overall divorce rate in England and Wales now stands at just 10.8 for every 1000 married people, approximately 42 per cent of marriages will end in divorce.

The Office for National Statistics have said that the yearly rise could be a result of the improving UK economy, with the suggestion that some unhappily married couples could have been waiting for their value of their home to increase before starting to divide their assets, or that the economic strain brought by the recession could have encouraged couples to pull together to cope with financial strain.

Although an official commentary by the Office of National Statistics has said it is too early to say whether the figures indicated a temporary fluctuation, they did add that: “Recent trends could be consistent with the theory that recession is associated with an increased risk of divorce – but with a delayed impact.

“This perhaps reflects a couple’s wait for an economic recovery to lift the value of their assets or the time lag between separation and obtaining a decree absolute.”

Divorce rates are still at their highest amongst younger couples and with studies showing that the first ten years of marriage tend to be the most vulnerable to divorce. However the figures also show that 22 per cent of the couples who got married in 2002 had got divorced ten years later; which is the lowest divorce rate from any group since couples who tied the knot in 1984.

Harry Benson from the Marriage Foundation commented on the figures, saying: “This is a real blow for those who try to claim that divorce rates are forever rising and that marriage is becoming an obsolete institution.

“What we’re seeing in fact is the strengthening of marriage over time.”

The Marriage Foundation’s own analysis includes couples who married abroad, indicates that the likelihood that a couple will get divorced within five years has plummeted by 35 per cent since the early 1990s.

Harry Benson continued: “My view is that early marriages are doing better because men are ‘buying in’ to it much more.”

“In the past people would have been asking ‘when are you going to do the decent thing?’ “Now, since cohabitation has become so much more normalised fewer people are asking that question so that people who are married are buying in much more.

“Behind the scenes the real story here is that marriages are getting better and better, maybe not stronger than ever but stronger than they have been for decades.”

Senior partner at Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe, said: “I am not surprised to see the number of divorces beginning to increase again.

“Over the past 18 months, we have opened an additional three offices to meet an increased demand for our services.

“I believe the economic situation, with the UK falling in and out of recession, has played a key role: a greater number of businesses go into liquidation when a country emerges from recession, and in my experience this principle applies to marriages too.

“Couples will struggle through times of adversity as best they can, but eventually find that despite their best efforts, they simply can’t go on any longer.

“I also wonder if the ‘Olympics Effect’ has played a part in the rise. Our offices around the country were unusually quiet for the period around London 2012, but became exceptionally busy afterwards.

At the time, it was well-documented that many more families were staying home for their holidays.

Could it be that for marriages already in trouble, the additional time spent together at home proved to be a tipping point?”

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