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ONS: Divorces increased by 18.4% in 2019

By George Salmon -

New figures published by the Office for National Statistics reveal a sharp rise in the total number of divorces between opposite-sex couples in 2019. Compared to the previous year, in which 90,781 opposite-sex couples divorced, 2019 saw 107,599 couples dissolve their marriage, an increase of 18.4 per cent.

This annual increase is the greatest percentage rise since 1972 and means 2019 saw the highest number of opposite-sex divorces since 2014, when 111,169 were recorded.

This change has been largely attributed to the clearing of backlogs which had built up in 2017 and were processed in early 2018.

Despite this record increase, divorce rates still remain far below the peaks recorded in 2003 and 2004. In this period, the divorce rate per 1,000 couples stood at 13.3; in 2019, it was only 8.9.

The decrease since the turn of the millennium is largely due to a falling marriage rate, allied to an increase in couples cohabiting.

The number of divorces among same-sex couples also rose dramatically, almost doubling from 428 in 2018 to 822 in 2019.

This continues a trend which has been running since the introduction of same-sex marriage in March 2014 and reflects the growing size of the same-sex married population.

Alongside a mutual increase, the figures also show another common factor between both same-sex and opposite-sex divorce: women are more likely to instigate proceedings than men.

In 2019, among opposite-sex couples, 62 per cent of divorces were petitioned by the wife.

Similarly, among same-sex couples, while only 56 per cent of same sex marriages were among females, they accounted for almost three-quarters of same-sex divorces.

There are a number of reasons behind this trend, which has been documented every year since 1949, a few of which are explored here.

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George Salmon

George joined Vardags in March 2020. He read English at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge and now writes as a legal journalist as well as managing Vardags' publicity