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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 August 2006, 14:46 GMT 15:46 UK
Divorce rate lowest since 2000
A couple getting married
More people are choosing to stay married, the figures show
The divorce rate in England and Wales fell by 8% last year to its lowest level since 2000, according to the Office for National Statistics.

There were 141,750 divorces in 2005, compared with 153,399 in 2004.

Marriages which ended in divorce were on average lasting a little longer at 11.6 years in 2005, compared with 11.5 the previous year.

Divorces in Northern Ireland fell by 6% to 2,362 in 2005 and in Scotland the drop was 3% to 10,940.

Divorce graph

Most divorces were granted to wives, and in more than half these cases, the husband's behaviour was the reason cited.

For men awarded a divorce, the most common reason was two years' separation with consent.

A fifth of people divorcing in 2005 had already had a previous marriage end in divorce.

Men and women under 40 saw the biggest drop in divorces, with cases in that category dropping by 13% and 12% respectively last year in England and Wales.

People in their late 20s had the highest divorce rates of all five-year age groups.

In 2005, there were 27.1 divorces per 1,000 married men aged 25-29 and 28 divorces per 1,000 married women in the same age category.

All age groups experienced a decline, apart from for women aged 60 and over, where there was an increase of 2%.

Divorces in the UK as a whole fell by 7% in 2005 to 155,052 compared with 167,138 in 2004.

Church backing

The Church of England welcomed the fall. A spokesman said: "behind every divorce statistic there are sad stories of relationships broken and damaged and families separated.

"The church believes marriage helps couples grow in maturity, overcome personal failings and difficulties and that it's the best environment for bringing up children.

The current system encourages acrimony and conflict because it's fault-based
Family lawyer Emma Hatley

Christine Northam, a senior Relate counsellor said the figures excluded co-habiting couples, but were a "really hopeful indication that divorce is declining".

"I think that's influenced by a much greater awareness that divorce is not the only answer.

"Emotionally it will take its toll, financially, and it will be bad for their children."

She said more information should be widely available on the truth about divorce and separation. With the cost of weddings, and aspects such as counselling from vicars, she said people were thinking harder about entering into marriage.

Sometime solution

Withers family lawyer Emma Hatley said it was more useful to compare the rate of divorce with the rate of marriage.

"We're still getting about one in two marriages ending in divorce and that's too high," she said.

"Half of divorces involve children who are under the age of 16 so its impact on the whole family is obviously huge."

"Sometimes it's the only solution in terms of going forward.

"But the current system encourages acrimony and conflict because it's fault-based. One of the things that should be highlighted while we're looking at these statistics is how the law should be changed."

Penny Mansfield, director of the relationship research group One Plus One, said the number of divorces in UK really "stuck out" when compared to other European countries.

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