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8 March 2012

Why splitting up shows things are actually getting better


Mahie Abey
The ONS produced the provisional marriage figures for 2010 this week, which showed marriage up by nearly 4% - although they qualified them by saying the increase may have been because less people were married abroad, and because 2009 saw the lowest marriage figures since 1895.

The ‘married abroad’ bit confused me for a while until I worked out that the stats are for marriages taking place in this country, and that because of economic conditions fewer people were going to the Maldives to get married. 

Therefore, logically, it seems that the gloomy economic outlook might have actually led to an increase in the official marriage rate.

Complete hokum of course, because no stats appear to exist on the number marrying abroad in previous years or, indeed, in this one - and therefore who knows?

You may also recall from previous blogs that the divorce rate was reported to be on the rise last year. A cursory examination of the actual facts showed that these figures were for 2010. My view at the time was that the divorce rate in 2011 would be lower (and the number of petitions was certainly down from the stats then available) and it remains my view now that the 2011 figures will show that.

Where is this all going then? A rising rate of marriage – possibly - and a rising, or falling, rate of divorce as well depending on who you believe. Hardly news. But if the recession in the 1990s is anything to go by (and I was only a baby lawyer then) the divorce rate certainly does rise when we start coming out of a period of economic gloom.

I’m mentioning this now because I have noticed (as have many other divorce lawyers I’ve talked to) that there seems to be more work around this year than there was last. So does that mean that we are coming out of the dark days of economic doom? No idea, but what I think it does mean is that people are at last getting to the point when they are economically confident enough to contemplate divorce.

Recessions are notoriously hard on marriages and this one will have been no better, and far worse in all probability due to the seriousness of the recession. There will be a point though when those who have held off making the decision to split think either that they can no longer wait or that things are looking slightly better economically and so the scales fall on the side of divorce rather than staying together in an unhappy marriage. If the evidence of the first 2 months of this year are anything to go by it may be that people have reached that position.

It is a strange and unsettling phenomenon that one of the signs of recovery from a recession is an increase in the divorce rate. Many people get divorced when they think they can afford to, when the alternative to staying married is better than not and when they are feeling more confident. Now I appreciate that 2 months of localised evidence does not mean anything - but I wonder if we may just be seeing the evidence that things are getting better in the economy. Alternatively I could be talking hokum too.