Latest ONS statistics show the changing face of UK divorce

November 02, 2017  |   Posted by :   |   Blog


The latest divorce statistics from the Office for National Statistics reveal the results of data on UK marriages and divorces in 2016, showing the first notable increase in divorce between opposite-sex couples since 2009, though overall the divorce rate has remained fairly steady. According to the ONS report there were a total of 106,959 opposite-sex divorces in the UK in 2016 – a 5.8% increase from 2015. However, divorce rates in opposite-sex couples are still 30% lower than the most recent peak in 2003, and 3.8% lower than in 2014. Other significant findings include the most common grounds for divorce, the average age and duration of divorce, and new statistics regarding same-sex divorce since the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2014.

In keeping with previous years, the biggest reason cited for divorce is unreasonable behavior, which covers a broad range of complaints but relies on one party assigning blame to the other. In a separate report published this week by the Nuffield Foundation, researchers suggested that divorce petitions are rarely ‘an accurate reflection of why the marriage broke down and who was “to blame”’, with only 30% of survey respondents claiming that the reason cited in their grounds for divorce was entirely truthful. In July 2016 research conducted by Resolution revealed that blame-based divorce was leading to petitioners lying in court in order to streamline the separation process due to the lack of a ‘no-fault’ option, and the family law organisation has been petitioning for the introduction of a less antagonistic option.

The current law states that it is necessary to assign blame to one or other party in order to begin divorce proceedings, meaning that the process is immediately based upon a confrontational foundation rather than allowing couples to come to a mutually beneficial agreement free from fault. Emotions run high in even the most amicable separation, and the current system means that it’s necessary to begin the divorce process with accusation, which does nothing to foster a reasonable relationship for those involved – especially if a couple has children to consider.

Alternatives to this combative approach to separation include mediation, collaborative family law, and arbitration, which allow couples to keep their affairs out of the family courts and find a cooperative solution with the support of their solicitor or mediator. These private, time- and cost-efficient options rely on collaboration and compromise, and are particularly suited to couples with children who wish to put a ‘co-parenting’ plan into place for the future, and avoid animosity as much as possible.

Returning to the ONS statistics, the data also suggests that couples are finding it increasingly difficult to finance and find support for divorce following the scrapping of legal aid – there was a significant fall in the number of divorces between the years of 2014 and 2015 which correlates to a lack of aid and this sudden dip may have affected the apparent rise in divorce between 2015-6. In addition, since 2003, greater numbers of couples have been shown to be choosing cohabitation over marriage, which also relates to a general decline in marriage and therefore divorce.

Figure 1- Number of marriages and divorces of opposite-sex couples, 1950 to 2016

The full ONS report can be found here.

For more information on UK divorce and separation, please get in touch with our family law department at Our experienced, down-to-earth family law solicitors are here to take the weight off your shoulders when it comes to separation and divorce, with offices in Beaconsfield, Maidenhead and meeting rooms in London.


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