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Divorce stats show need for legislation on cohabitation and no-fault divorce, says Resolution

Divorce rate still 30% lower than 2003

Latest official statistics, which show that last year there were 106,959 divorces in England and Wales among opposite-sex couples, underline the need for changes in the law on cohabitation and the grounds for divorce, according to Resolution.

The total of 106,959 divorces was an increase of 5.8 per cent compared with 2015. In 2016, there were 8.9 divorces of opposite-sex couples per 1,000 married men and women aged 16 and over (divorce rates), an increase of 4.7 per cent since 2015; however, divorce rates in 2016 are over 20 per cent lower than the recent peak in divorce rate in 2003 and 2004.

Commenting on the figures, Nigel Shepherd, Chair of Resolution, said:

"Although the numbers of divorces, and the divorce rate, are up on 2015, both are still far lower than their recent peak of 2003. As the ONS recognises, this is almost certainly due, in part, to the rise in the number of cohabiting couples – the fastest growing family type in the UK.

"Yet despite this, there is still little or no legal protection for cohabitants should they separate. What's more, many are living together while still believing there is such a thing as common-law marriage in this country and that as a result they have rights – there isn't and they don't. Action needs to be taken to change this.

"It's also important to recognise that behind these statistics, there are tens of thousands of couples who are currently discouraged by the current system from taking a non-confrontational approach to divorce . For many separating couples, the need to apportion blame on the divorce petition can introduce unnecessary conflict, which adds to the stress and heartache for the couple themselves and, crucially, any children they may have.

"For decades, 'unreasonable behaviour' has been the most common reason for divorce among opposite-sex couples [36 per cent of all husbands and 51 per cent of all wives petitioning for divorce on these grounds], yet many are forced into playing this 'blame game' by our archaic divorce laws."

"That's why we have repeatedly called on government to legislate for no-fault divorce, and will continue to do so. This call is echoed by senior legal figures, such as Baroness Hale, the President of the Supreme Court, and Sir Paul Coleridge, the Chair of the Marriage Foundation.

"In the face of such overwhelming support, and with the Supreme Court due next Spring to hear the appeal of Mrs Owens, whose divorce has been denied because of the current law, the government needs to listen and take action."

There were 112 divorces of same-sex couples in 2016; of these 78 per cent were among female couples. Unreasonable behaviour was the most common grounds for divorce among same-sex couples, accounting for 96 per cent of divorces among men and 93 per cent of divorces among women. Unreasonable behaviour within same-sex couples can include having a sexual relationship with someone else.

For the full sttaistics, click here. For a House of Commons Library briefing on no-fault divorce, published on 17 October 2017, click here.