Latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show the divorce rate in England and Wales is at its lowest rate since 1974. In 2009, there were a total of 113,949, a decrease of 6.4 per cent since 2008. Impressively, that is the sixth annual fall in a row.
Apart from the more troubling peripheral questions this raises for me, like why are statisticians always so slow (2009 latest figures when we’re now well into 2011?), I did ask myself why this might be.
Well, one simple contributing factor could well be that the marriage rate is falling too! While I don’t believe this to be the only reason, it is fact that if there are fewer marriages there will be fewer divorces.
This underlying trend over the last few years, I know, has figured in the decision by some general law firms to stop offering family law services and to make some solicitors redundant. I feel this is slightly short-sighted though, or perhaps a knee-jerk reaction. With nearly 114,000 divorces each year, there are still plenty of people out there who need specialist family law advice.
There is also the issue that though fewer people may be marrying, leading to fewer divorces, that means there are more couples living together and so need of advice on things like living together agreements. Related to this, I believe there is a pent up demand for help in sorting out the often complex arrangements when co-habiting couples break up. Without the solid starting point that the legality of being married brings to divorce proceedings, where to start looking at any division of assets and arrangements for residence of any children is not always clear. Experienced family lawyers are best placed to help with this. Divorce is not our only trick, so to speak.
This will continue as long as living together (rather than necessarily marrying) remains fashionable. Ask Ed Miliband!
But one thing to remember about the divorce rate before we get too excited is the fact that it is falling and has been for some years but the level is still very high. More help is still needed to help prepare couples for the commitment of marriage and to work through their problems where possible rather than it simply being the done thing to reach for a divorce the minute things aren’t to a person’s liking. That, unfortunately, still seems to be a part of our culture.