Is the cost of living crisis contributing to divorce 50-year low?

Tue 30th Apr 2024

Divorce in the UK is at a 50-year low and one of the main contributing factors is thought to be the cost of living crisis. Initially, while it may appear positive that fewer people are divorcing, under the surface the reasoning is maybe less hopeful.

In 2022, there were 80,057 divorces granted in England and Wales. This was a decrease of 29.5% compared to 113,505 divorces in 2021. This is also the lowest number of divorces since 1971.

The evidence points to multiple possible reasons why this could be the case. One of the possible reasons is that fewer people can afford to get divorced or live apart due to the cost of living crisis. Therefore, many are having to wait until they are in a more stable financial position before filing for divorce.

Catherine Hyde, Associate from Coodes’ Family team, explores…

No-Fault Divorce

Two years ago, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 changed the legal process surrounding divorce, although the Act was delayed until 2022 due to further amends being made.

It was hoped that bringing in this new legislation would reduce conflict and blame between the two parties. The purpose of the Act is meant to resolve and bring a more agreeable end to a marriage or civil partnership.

The no-fault divorce which was brought in on 6 April 2022, means that blame no longer needs to be assigned to one party. These changes meant that to divorce your partner, it no longer had to fall within a certain category, such as: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, separated for two years and the other person agrees to divorce, separated for five years, or your partner has deserted you for at least two years.

The new legislation means that you can now apply and state that your marriage has irretrievably broken down. This can either be done independently or through a joint application with your spouse. Overall, there are also more limited grounds for objecting to a divorce under the new process.

However, as part of no-fault divorce, there is a 20-week “cooling off” period before the divorce can be finalised. This is a much longer period than the old divorce process. From start to finish, the new process can take a minimum of up to six months.

Overall, the initial delay in bringing in the Act combined with a longer minimum waiting period could have contributed to fewer people getting divorced within the last year.

Financial Troubles

Another large contributor could be put down to financial troubles caused by the cost of living crisis.

During the cost of living crisis, many people will be hesitant to make decisions that will significantly alter their financial security. This, as well as the rising cost of living, is also having a wider impact on society and its lifestyle choices.

Widely, fewer people are getting married altogether. In the UK alone, there were 96,627 fewer marriages in 2019 than in 1991. The couples that are still getting married are now also waiting until they’re older to do so. The average marriage age is now closer to 40 than 30. 

A reason for this could be that many couples would like to get to a point where they are financially stable first. In an unstable housing market, many couples are now dedicating savings to house deposits over weddings. Owning a house has become a signifier of financial security and as such is an important milestone for couples.

This is mirrored in the number of couples that are now cohabiting. The cost of living crisis has seen the number of couples cohabiting without marriage or a civil partnership increase. Numbers have increased from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.6 million in 2021. Again, this could be a reflection of the housing market and the cost of living crisis or simply a societal change of attitude towards marriage.  

Divorce statistics are likely to have decreased if fewer people are getting married or having a civil partnership in the first place. It also becomes clear why couples would be hesitant to divorce if they are unable to afford living alone through the lengthy separation period.

Domestic Abuse

A study found that during the pandemic, victims stayed in abusive relationships for longer. In 2020, there was also a 65% increase in calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline. During the lockdown periods, abuse severity was also noted to have increased. It also made it much more difficult for victims to separate themselves from their partners or seek help.

If you also consider the cost of living crisis, then many will not be able to leave an abusive situation due to the associated costs. The two-year delay period behind the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 may also have contributed to people not divorcing.

As a part of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, councils have a legal duty to fund support for survivors to be in safe accommodation. Under the new legislation, there also needs to be a guarantee that all survivors get priority for housing. It also means they keep a secure tenancy in social housing if they need to escape from their abuser.

You may also be eligible for Legal Aid if you are a victim of domestic abuse subject to your financial situation. We will carry out a free, initial assessment to assess your eligibility.

If you are currently facing domestic violence, or are looking for help for somebody you know, please visit the below charities.

First Light – a charity for anyone experiencing domestic abuse or sexual violence. Telephone: 0300 777 4777

ManKind Initiative –specialist UK charity focusing on male victims of domestic abuse. Telephone: 01823 334 244

Refuge –the UK’s largest domestic abuse organisation. Telephone: 0808 2000 247

Getting a Divorce

Despite a drop in numbers, married couples or those within a civil partnership may still be considering divorce proceedings. At Coodes, we understand that every situation is different, and we can offer tailored advice and expertise to suit your needs. We also understand that times are hard as we continue to live in a cost of living crisis. That’s why we offer a fixed-fee appointment for all initial advice regarding divorce proceedings.

You can find out more about our divorce services, use our online contact form, or contact Catherine Hyde directly.

Tue 30th Apr 2024

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