Page last updated at 13:22 GMT, Friday, 29 August 2008 14:22 UK

Divorce rate lowest for 26 years

A couple getting married
More than half of divorces involved couples with at least one child

The divorce rate for England and Wales has fallen for the third year running to its lowest level for 26 years.

Annual figures show the divorce rate fell to 11.9 divorces for every 1,000 married couples in 2007, down from 12.2 divorces in 2006.

In Scotland, divorces fell by 1.9% in 2007, while in Northern Ireland the number increased significantly by 14%.

The highest rate of divorce was among couples in their late 20s and just over half involved couples with a child.

The report, by the Office for National Statistics, did not analyse the reasons why divorce rates had fallen.

Penny Mansfield, Director of One Plus One, a charity that works to improve relationships, said family life was more fragile, with couple relationships still popular but fewer getting married.

"Annual divorce statistics no longer offer us a clear picture of the state of British relationships - those who don't marry can't divorce, but they and their children are just as likely, if not more likely, to experience the impact of relationship breakdown," she said.

British matrimonial and family lawyer Ayesha Vardag said changing social attitudes, publicity about celebrity divorces and an unhelpful legal system had all contributed to the decline in both marriages and divorce.

"Quite often people are in really untenable situations - with conflict or violence in the home - but they can't get out of them, and their children can't get out of them, so people are trapped," she said about the legal system.

Couples in other countries can legally agree on what would happen in the event of divorce by signing pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreements, but these are not legally binding in the UK, leading to a "gold digger's charter" when it comes to divorce, she added.

The report also noted that 42 civil partnerships in England and Wales were dissolved in 2007 - 28 of them female couples and 14 male couples.

Civil partnerships became legal in Britain in December 2005.

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