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Divorce rates at lowest level in 40 years – legal comment

Dip in divorces may be attributable to a decline in marriages taking place, says family lawyer at national law firm Weightmans LLP.

In 2015, there were 101,055 divorces or annulments in England and Wales, down from 111,169 in 2014. This continues the general trend of recent years, with a drop of 34% from the most recent peak of 153,065 in 2003.

The ONS statistics also show that the average length of marriage is currently 11.9 years with the most common age of divorcees being between 45 and 49. It is estimated that 42% of all marriages will end in divorce, with half of these divorces occurring in the first 10 years of marriage.

Matthew Taylor, a solicitor in the family law team at national law firm Weightmans (pictured), commented:

“The reduction in divorce rates can be partly explained by a fall in the number of marriages, which has declined from a peak of over 425,000 in the early 1970s to just over 245,000 in 2014. This is closely linked to changes in attitude towards marriage in recent years, with 3.3m families in the UK now choosing cohabitation instead of marriage. This figure is more than double what it was as recently as 1996.

“Unfortunately this shift towards cohabitation hasn’t yet been matched by a shift in legislation to protect couples who choose not to marry. There remains a huge misconception that being a ‘common law spouse’ gives financial rights. This is not the case and there is a risk that the financially weaker party will be prejudiced if the relationship comes to an end. This is an area which urgently requires reform.

“It is also interesting to note that 2015 saw the first same sex divorces following same sex marriage being legalised 29 March 2014. There were 22 same sex divorces in 2015 and no doubt this figure will increase in next year’s statistics.”