ONS data shows biggest rise in divorces since 1970s

November 18, 2020

The latest data on divorces in England and Wales released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has shown a huge rise in divorces – the biggest since the Divorce Act came into force in 1972.

The number of divorces registered in 2019 was 107,599 for opposite sex couples, and 822 for same-sex couples.

This equates to a rise of 18.4 per cent on 2018 for opposite sex couples, and a rise of 7.5 per cent for same-sex couples.

And while the ONS puts part of this down to a backlog processed in early 2018 which resulted in more divorces completing in 2019, a Cheshire family law solicitor believes that effect may be overstated.

Danny Hudson, partner and member of the family law department at Warrington-based Watsons Solicitors, said: “I can understand the increase in same sex couples as they’ve been able to marry since March 2014, and given that the median length of marriages ending in divorce for different sex couples marriages is about 12 years, it’s highly likely that the longer it goes on, the closer to 12 it will get.

“However, I’m a little hesitant to agree with the point that the 18.4 per cent increase in divorces from 2018 to 2019 was solely down to this backlog at the courts, it isn’t something we experienced here in Warrington. I hadn’t noticed any particular delay; it may be different elsewhere in the country.”

While a similar delay may be expected because of the general slowing down of the legal system due to COVID-19, the situation for legal professionals working on divorce cases has changed significantly, meaning in many cases the system is much quicker.

The new digital process underlines the need to appoint a professional, up-to-date firm to handle legal work.

Danny added: “A portal whereby solicitors can deal with matters digitally that removes the need for paper form filling was introduced in March. It’s all online, so I will issue a divorce petition, this will be emailed to the respondent who can then log on and confirm if they are happy to proceed.

"The application for decree nisi can then be applied for and processed by a Judge anywhere in the country due to the fact that it is all online. Traditionally it would only be processed by a few people, with everything being completed and handled by hand through the postal system. This created drag and delay. 

“Materially it speeds up the process, there’s no paperwork, and people now are used to dealing with processes online.

“You can be divorced within four to five months, but if you go into the paper process, which is still running parallel, because the staff at the Courts is massively reduced, they’re under immense pressure at the current time, so they’re dealing with casework as it comes in and they’re about two months behind.”

Watsons Solicitors, which has been established for more than 60 years, specialises in family law, employment law, wills and probate, personal injury and conveyancing.

The team of experienced solicitors each hold various accreditations and memberships of professional bodies relevant to their expertise, while the firm’s partners oversee all areas of work.

For more information visit www.watsonssolicitors.com

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