It is no secret that fewer people are getting married. In 2009, 231,490 couples said “I do”, the lowest since 1895. To put it another way, 8.4 people per 1,000 in 2009 compared to 8.7 in 2008.
Neither is it a secret that the divorce rate is high in the UK – but falling. There were 113,949 divorces in 2009 with 10.5 people per 1,000 of the married population filing for divorce compared to 11.2 in 2008. Estimates suggest divorce for around 33% of marriages.
I regularly quote statistics so I spent a bit more time poking around the ONS site to see what I could find and I unearthed some interesting figures. It really is incredible what is there when you look for it, though not always obvious where to look. I wonder what the latest (2009) stats are for how long it takes people to find what they want on a statistics website?
Civil ceremonies accounted for 67 per cent of marriages in 2009 – so fewer people are worried about the religious side of marriage when tying the knot. In addition, 16% of young people (aged 16 to 24) with no religion co-habit. They represent the largest group of co-habitees so it seems there is no end in sight to the trends above, with fewer church weddings and fewer people getting married. And with fewer people getting married, there will inevitably continue to be fewer divorces.
More people get divorced aged between 40 and 44 than any other age. And as I was typing this, what then happened by complete coincidence, I swear, is I saw a Tweet which stated: “In that last year, 2.3 million people aged 45-64 lived alone”, according to the Office of National Statistics. The really staggering figure behind that is that is has risen dramatically in nine years: the figure was 1.7 million in 2001. It then asks the question: “Divorce or choosing to be alone?” Have to admit I have not been able to find the exact data on this but I have no reason to doubt a Daily Telegraph journalist.
So are these trends linked? I guess when I have talked about marriages going down, and divorces going down, I have simply assumed that it is “balanced” by more couples co-habiting, either before/instead of a wedding or after finding a new partner when a marriage has failed. What I have perhaps given less thought to is those in their 40s or 50s who are divorcing and then spending their time living alone. Should then we be offering additional support to those going through a divorce for what comes after? It might not be that they quickly get into another relationship or are kept busy with young children to look after. They may be left psychologically scarred by the breakdown of their marriage or relationship. They may find a few years down the line, when the children leave home, they are left on their own and without the confidence to go out and meet people. Or, of course, it could simply be that many more people are happy to just be on their own and wait to see if someone new comes into their life.
Whatever the reason, I think family lawyers should give thought to the level of support they give to a person going through a divorce, not just on the legal front for the here and now, but their broader well-being in the longer term to avoid “divorce casualties” becoming a new statistic to be tracked.