Page last updated at 16:34 GMT, Thursday, 28 January 2010

Divorce rate lowest for 29 years

A couple getting married
Half of couples divorcing in 2008 had at least one child aged under 16

The number of divorces in England and Wales has fallen for a fifth successive year to the lowest rate for 29 years.

In 2008, the divorce rate in England and Wales decreased by 2.5% to 11.5 divorcing people per 1,000 married people, compared with 11.8 in 2007.

Divorces in Scotland fell by 10% from 2007 to 2008, while divorces in Northern Ireland decreased by 4.8%.

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

The 2008 divorce rate in England and Wales was the lowest since 1979, when there were 11.2 divorces per 1,000 married people.

'Partial picture'

However, for the fourth consecutive year, both men and women in their late 20s had the highest divorce rates in England and Wales.

Family lawyer Martin Loxley said the reduction in divorces could be the result of better marriage counselling and a rise in separation agreements - which outline a separating couple's responsibilities to each other and their children, rather than going to court for a divorce.

He said: "It was widely expected that divorce levels would rise in 2008 as a result of the strains and stresses added by the recession, so it is great to see couples sticking together through the harder times.

Our experience is that fewer couples are divorcing because fewer are marrying
Ayesha Vardag, divorce lawyer

"Although the majority of people who contact a lawyer with marital problems go on to divorce their partner at some stage, we have seen an increase in the number marriages saved through counselling and therapy."

Mr Loxley said he was not surprised it was people in their late 20s who had the highest divorce rates, as this was often the time when people had children, which could strain fragile marriages to breaking point.

Ayesha Vardag, a divorce lawyer involved in a landmark court win last year over a pre-nuptial agreement, said: "Our experience is that fewer couples are divorcing because fewer are marrying.

'Unfair settlements'

"This comes partly from the increased social acceptability of living together and having children outside marriage, and partly from anxiety about the unpredictable financial consequences of marriage, which have in recent times often been seen as unfair."

Claire Tyler, chief executive of Relate, said the figures did not show the full picture of family disintegration as they did not include details of how many cohabiting parents separated.

She added: "Currently the government spends around £7m a year on relationship support, yet family breakdown costs the country an estimated £24bn per year.

"Politicians have recently been hotly discussing what makes people get married. These figures show that it isn't just about getting couples up the aisle - what's really important is that relationships last."

We know that 50% of separated people said they felt there were things they could have done to prevent their break-up, and they wished they'd done more
Claire Tyler, Relate

Ms Tyler said couples going through problems should be able to access relationship counselling.

"Relationship support works," she said, "with 80% of respondents to a Relate survey, who wanted to keep their relationship together, saying they felt counselling helped to strengthen their relationship.

"Independent research also showed we know that 50% of separated people said they felt there were things they could have done to prevent their break-up, and they wished they'd done more."

In England and Wales the number of divorces decreased from 128,232 in 2007 to 121,779 in 2008.

In Scotland the number of divorces fell from 12,810 to 11,474. In Northern Ireland, divorces decreased from 2,913 to 2,773.

The proportion of divorcing men and women who had previously been divorced has almost doubled since 1981.

In 2008, of all decrees awarded to one partner, rather than jointly to both, more than half - 67% - were awarded to the wife.

Half of couples divorcing in 2008 had at least one child aged under 16.



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SEE ALSO
The real cost of divorce
25 Oct 06 |  Business
Divorce 'can boost debt levels'
16 Oct 06 |  Business
Divorce rate lowest since 2000
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