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Our blog provides illustrated practical guides for those going through the divorce process, plus news on divorce, money and family breakdown.

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9 December 2011

A rising divorce rate? Er…..no...

Mahie Abey

The 5% rise in divorce rates announced on Thursday took many people by surprise, myself included.

How can the rate have risen when the vast majority of divorce solicitors that I have spoken to in the last 12 months say they are quieter than they have been in previous years? Are they all wrong?

As ever, with any stats, the devil is in the detail.

What the ONS (where these figures derive) measures I assume are the number of Decrees Absolute. As anyone who has been divorced and has to resolve finances at the same time will testify to, the Decree Absolute often comes a very long time after the divorce petition – sometimes over a year later if the finances have been difficult to sort out.

Therefore I do not think Decrees Absolute are the best way of assessing what is really currently happening out there.

A far better one is to see how many divorce petitions have been issued in any given period.

Also the figures the ONS have just produced are for 2010! We are currently in the last month of 2011 and the world is a different place. Before the snow hit at the end of last year, and brought much of the economy virtually to a standstill, ours was a growing economy albeit a faltering one. Almost 12 months on, with the sovereign debt crisis threatening the stability of the Eurozone and the impact that has had on our economy, 2011 has proved a very difficult year. Unemployment has risen, growth forecasts have been slashed and growth itself has been very slow.

There is an old cliché amongst divorce lawyers that people don’t get divorced in recessions. When people are worried about the future they would rather stay together in unhappy marriages than take the risk of divorce and the financial uncertainty that can bring.

So with all this going on how can the divorce rate be rising?

The reality is that it is not.

The statistics on divorce petitions issued show very clearly that what has happened to the economy over 2011 is reflected in a reduction in the divorce rate.

The numbers below are for divorce petitions issued (figures from the Ministry of Justice's Court Statistics Quarterly):

Quarter 1 and 2 of 2010 – 68,003

Quarter 1 and 2 of 2011 – 64,250

More telling still:

Quarter 2 of 2010 – 33,414

Quarter 2 of 2011 – 29,515

This is almost a 12 % reduction.

The headline in yesterday’s Evening Standard was “Till debt us do part”. I think the reality is that debt is in fact the glue holding people together!