Collective wisdom dictates that the number of divorces rises during recession. Money pressures, job losses and the like conspire to apply just that additional bit of pressure to couples who were struggling anyway, and prove to be the straw that breaks the back of the marriage.
However, recent figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) flew in the face of this, showing that there was a 1.7 per cent fall in divorces in 2011 (most recent full year figures). A subsequent study into this and historic data analysed by the Marriage Foundation has concluded there is “no evidence whatsoever” that recession increases divorce cases. Figures show, for instance, that divorce rose by five per cent in 2003, when the economy was buoyant, but fell three per cent in 1994 when times were harder.
Our own recent survey into the reasons behind divorce showed that sex (in one form or another) is still the most common reason cited in divorce, as it was when we carried out a similar survey in 1998. However, we are seeing that more people are mentioning financial issues – 30 per cent of more than 200 cases analysed, compared to 11 per cent five years ago. What the Marriage Foundation analysis perhaps points to is that many people are choosing to do nothing when times are hard because they feel they cannot afford to go through a “costly” divorce. They do not think they will be able to sell the house or fear they will not be able to support themselves if they go it alone, particularly wives who are maybe reliant on a husband for the bulk of the household income. This is borne out by the number of enquires we get from people sounding us out but then deciding not to go ahead.
I think a bad economy has always caused more endings of a marriage—whether people actually go through the divorce then or not is a different thing. I say this based on experience of 35 years of ups and downs in the economy and divorce rates.
And of course, if people are under pressure from real money worries, they might be less inclined to have sex, which could contribute to relationship breakdown and influence what they see as the main cause of the problem!
It may only be in a few years’ time, when the nation is back on a more even keel financially, that we will be able to look back and really tease out any patterns to family breakdown that could be attributed to several years of recession-like conditions. I think it is unlikely we are going to see a post-recession divorce surge. Such a surge would suggest people have been waiting in the wings and biding their time until financial fortunes go up and they feel they can afford divorce. Divorce does not need to be expensive, if the parties approach it pragmatically and reach agreement without having to involve the courts. Does lack of money really put people off divorcing? Well it doesn’t appear to put them off marriage and that costs 10 or 20 times as much.
By Andrew Woolley