We conducted a poll among Woolley & Co lawyers a couple of years ago on what the leading causes of divorce were. Each looked at their ten most recent cases and in 43 per cent of divorces, sex was a factor, making it the most common factor in divorce by our reckoning. In most cases this was adultery, but there were a string of other entries, including unusual sexual practices, use of gay chat forums and cross dressing. Each to their own.
From my experience in the profession and speaking to colleagues, the finding was fairly representative and was borne out by most who said infidelity (or perceived infidelity) was regularly given as a ground for divorce.
I was therefore interested to read last week about a recent survey which suggested falling out of love (growing apart) has taken top spot from infidelity in the divorce stakes. In all, 27 per cent of divorce cases are now ultimately down to people falling out of love, according to lawyers interviewed in the poll, leading to a marriage breakdown. The annual survey had seen extramarital affairs top the list since its inception in 2003.
I’m not sure if this is a step forward or backwards. That means failing out of love rather than the irrepressible desire for sex now causes more divorces than anything else, if the results are to be believed. And I am no wiser on the reasons behind the change.
It could be a shift in people’s perception/expectation of relationships. It might be a sweeping generalisation, but in the past maybe more couples stayed together out of duty and “making the best of it” because divorce was socially unacceptable and it has taken a while for the fact that it is now commonplace to seep though into attitudes. Or, it could have been that no matter how bad infidelity sounds, it was symptomatic of a failing relationship and so gave one or other of the parties an easy ground for divorce to include on the forms. It therefore remained more commonplace than falling out of love.
It could now be the passage of time pushing a couple past breaking point to a situation where they simply do not want to be with each other. There is no big bang but they just grow apart. This is particularly true in older coupes I have found where the children have flown the nest and the couple, who have focused their efforts and attentions on their offspring for so long, suddenly find they have more time together – but less in common.
What’s the answer? I don’t think there is one. Should we be thankful that infidelity is no longer the most common ground for divorce? I’m not sure – but I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.