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Number of divorces in England and Wales increased in 2012

Divorce rate down over the last decade

The Office for National Statistics has released statistics for divorces in England and Wales in 2012. The number of divorces in England and Wales in 2012 was 118,140, an increase of 0.5% since 2011, when there were 117,558 divorces. The number of civil partnership dissolutions also increased. However, this is part of an upward trend which is partly explained by the fact that since civil partnerships are relatively new, the number odf registered partnerships is increasing.

In 2012, 10.8 people divorced per thousand married population, a decrease of 19% compared with 13.3 in 2002.

The number of divorces in 2012 was highest among men and women aged 40 to 44.

For those married in 1972, 22% of marriages had ended in divorce by their 15th wedding anniversary whereas for those married in 1997, almost a third of marriages had ended by this time. Almost half of all divorces in 2012 occurred in the first ten years of marriage and divorce was most likely to occur between the fourth and eighth wedding anniversary.

48% of couples divorcing had at least one child aged under 16 living with the family.

In the light of the increase in divorces, Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes has called on more parents and couples to use mediation rather than face the stressful experience of going to court. He said:

"Mediation works. We are committed to making sure that more people make use of it rather than go through the confrontational and stressful experience of going to court.

"These figures show thousands of people are sadly still divorcing each year. We want them to do it in the least damaging way for everyone involved, especially children. That is why we want them to use the excellent mediation services available to agree a way forward, rather than have one forced upon them."

Liz Edwards, Chair of Resolution, said:

"It's disappointing to see the divorce rates rising, and we suspect there are a range of reasons why this has happened.

"What's interesting is looking beyond the headline figures, the vast majority of divorce petitions still involve one party assigning blame to the other – either in the form of adultery or unreasonable behaviour.

"Resolution members see people day in, day out, who have mutually agreed to separate, but because of the divorce laws we currently have, are forced to apportion blame in the divorce petition. This is unhelpful, and often makes conflict and confrontation part and parcel of the divorce process.

"Our members believe separation and divorce should be as non-confrontational as possible, and where marriage has failed, couples should be able to bring it to an end with the minimum distress and conflict. Where there are children, their welfare should be the top priority.

"Resolution wants to see the law change to remove the need to assign blame if a marriage breaks down. This would not make divorce easier, but would recognise the fact that divorce is a sad fact of life for some people – to the tune of nearly a quarter of a million in 2012. They - and crucially, any children they may have - should be able to move forwards with their lives with as little distress as possible."

Alison Hawes, a partner in the family law team at Irwin Mitchell, commented:

"The small rise in divorces during 2012 could be a sign of renewed confidence following the recession; certainly there were people affected by money worries who may have put off a divorce previously. The trend in rising number of older people divorcing also continued as people are living healthier, longer lives and are wishing to pursue other relationships whereas before couples may have felt compelled to stay together in old age.

"There is also still the issue of couples drifting apart after 'empty nest syndrome' as the children head off to university or move out of the family home. 

"Most divorces cite unreasonable behaviour and that is not surprising because regrettably the law is such that we still have to attribute fault to a marriage breakdown to achieve a divorce unless the parties have been separated for over two years.

"Most people don't want to wait until they've been separated for years once they have already decided to divorce, so are forced to rely on one of the immediate fault grounds which means they make a list of complaints about how the other person has behaved.  

"There are more ways to divorce consensually than ever before with mediation and collaborative law certainly becoming more popular. There is a growing emphasis from courts, judges, marriage counsellors and most importantly our clients on resolving disputes out-of-court  where possible and many couples prefer this approach at the outset."

The statistical release is here.