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«Divorces in England and Wales, Coverage: England and Wales Date: 06 February 2014 Geographical Area: Country Theme: Population Key findings • The ...»

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Statistical Bulletin

Divorces in England and Wales,

Coverage: England and Wales

Date: 06 February 2014

Geographical Area: Country

Theme: Population

Key findings

• The number of divorces in England and Wales in 2012 was 118,140, an increase of 0.5% since

2011, when there were 117,558 divorces.

• In 2012, 10.8 people divorced per thousand married population, a decrease of 19% compared

with 13.3 in 2002.

• The number of divorces in 2012 was highest among men and women aged 40 to 44.

• For those married in 1972, 22% of marriages had ended in divorce by their 15th wedding anniversary whereas for those married in 1997, almost a third of marriages had ended by this time.

Summary This bulletin presents annual statistics on divorces that took place in England and Wales in 2012, following court orders. The statistics do not include divorces to couples usually resident in England and Wales which took place abroad.

A marriage may be either dissolved, following a petition for divorce and the granting of a decree absolute, or annulled, following a petition for nullity and the awarding of a decree of nullity. In this release, the term divorce includes both decrees absolute and decrees of nullity.

Divorce statistics are analysed by sex, age and marital status before marriage, duration of marriage, age at divorce, the number and age of children involved, and the grounds for divorce.

This is the first time that ONS has released 2012 divorce statistics for England and Wales.

Office for National Statistics | 1 Divorces in England and Wales, 2012 | 06 February 2014 Number of divorces In 2012, the number of divorces in England and Wales increased by 0.5% to 118,140 compared with 117,558 in 2011. The number of divorces declined between 2003 and 2009 from 153,065 to 113,949 followed by a 4.9% increase in 2010. The number of divorces has remained relatively stable since 2010, fluctuating just below the number recorded in 2010. The fall in divorces to 2009 is consistent with a decline in the number of marriages. The decrease in marriages to 2009 may be due to the increasing number of couples choosing to cohabit rather than enter into marriage (Beaujouan and Bhrolcháin, 2011 (283.5 Kb Pdf)).

Figure 1: Number of marriages and divorces, 1932–2012 England and Wales Source: Office for National Statistics


1. Marriage figures for 2011 are provisional.

Download chart XLS format (28.5 Kb) Office for National Statistics | 2 Divorces in England and Wales, 2012 | 06 February 2014 Figure 1 shows the changing trend in the number of divorces since 1932, as well as changes in the number of marriages. The number of divorces generally increased between 1932 and the early 1990s as a result of changes in behaviour and attitudes. The large increase in the late 1940s (following the end of the Second World War) is considered to be attributable to women’s increased participation in the labour force which meant couples were no longer as financially dependent on each other. The large increase observed during the 1970s was associated with the Divorce Reform Act 1969, which came into effect in England and Wales on 1 January 1971, making it easier for couples to divorce upon separation.

Divorce rates

In 2012, 10.8 people divorced per thousand married population, compared with 13.3 in 2002.

Similar decreases in the male and female divorce rates have also taken place since 2002 (Figure 2). The male divorce rate decreased to 10.8 divorces per thousand married males, down from 13.4 in 2002.

The female divorce rate decreased to 10.9 divorces per thousand married females, down from 13.3 in 2002.

Figure 2: Divorce rates by sex, 1972–2012 England and Wales Source: Office for National Statistics

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1. Divorce rates for 2002-2010 are calculated using marital status population estimates based on the 2001 Census.

Revisions to these estimates to take account of the 2011 Census are not currently planned. Divorce rates for 2011 and 2012 are based on estimated 2011 marital status population estimates which use the mid-2011 population estimates based on the 2011 Census and the marital status distribution from the 2008-based marital status population projections for 2011. Consequently comparisons between rates for 2002-2010 and 2011-2012 should be treated with caution due to the different census bases used. For more information see section titled ‘Availability of Population Estimates by Marital Status and the Calculation of Divorce Rates for 2011 and 2012’.

Download chart

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Changes in the size of the adult population who are married, and therefore able to divorce, will affect both the number of divorces and the divorce rate. Divorce rates in 2012 remained similar to 2011 due to only a slight increase in the number of divorces and no change in the adult married population. Marital status estimates for 2011 and 2012 are not currently available; therefore divorce rates for 2012 have been calculated using estimated 2011 marital status population estimates.

Whilst the actual number of males and females getting married or divorced in a particular year is equal, the number of unmarried males and females in the population will differ, hence the different rates (see background note 4).

Divorce rates calculated using marital status estimates based on the 2001 Census suggest that both the male and female divorce rates have generally decreased since 2004 with the exception of 2010 and 2012 for females where rates increased. The increase in 2010 could have been associated with the economic climate following the 2008-09 recession. Two competing theories exist relating to the effect of an economic downturn on the number of partnerships dissolving.

One theory suggests that recession could contribute to a rise in partnership break-ups because of increased financial strain, changes in employment and related lifestyle changes. Social research in Britain has shown that unemployment and downturns in the housing market may be associated with family instability (Vaitilingam, 2011). In addition some individuals may believe they will get a more favourable divorce settlement if their income is currently low.

In contrast, an alternative theory suggests that partnerships would be less likely to dissolve in an unfavourable economic climate because of an increase in family solidarity during difficult times and the need to postpone marital break-ups until the economy, and the value of their home improves (Bradford Wilcox, 2011). Any impact of the recession on divorce is likely to vary across different sectors of society (Chowdhury, 2013).

It is too early to say whether recent trends in divorce rates represent small fluctuations resulting from rates nearing some form of stabilisation. Recent trends could be consistent with the theory that recession is associated with an increased risk of divorce, but with a delayed impact (Bradford Wilcox, 2011). This perhaps reflects a couple’s wait for an economic recovery to lift the value of their assets or the time lag between separation and obtaining a decree absolute. A similar trend can be

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seen during the previous recession in 1990-92, where divorce rates increased more markedly in 1993 than during the recession itself.

Age at divorce Figure 3 shows the age at divorce for men and women in 2012. At younger ages there were more women than men divorcing; however, at older ages more men than women divorced. This pattern reflects the differences seen in age at marriage of men and women (the most recent marriage statistics available show that the provisional mean age for men marrying in 2011 was 36.3 years compared with 33.8 for women). In 2012, the number of divorces was highest among men and women aged 40 to 44.

Figure 3: Number of divorces by age at divorce, 2012 England and Wales Source: Office for National Statistics Download chart

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Compared with 2002, divorce rates in England and Wales are higher in 2012 for men aged 50 and above and for women aged 45 and above, while divorce rates for men aged below 50 and women

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aged below 45 are lower (See tables 3a and 3b – Number of divorces, age at divorce and marital status before marriage (285.5 Kb Excel sheet)).

Women in their late twenties had the highest divorce rates of all female age groups, with 23.6 females divorcing per thousand married women aged 25 to 29 in 2012. This continues the general pattern seen over the last two decades.

Men in their early thirties had the highest divorce rate in 2012 with 21.9 males divorcing per thousand married men aged 30 to 34. Over the last two decades, the divorce rate for men has been highest for those aged either 25 to 29 or 30 to 34. Men aged 25 to 29 had the highest divorce rate in 2011 with 21.9 males divorcing per thousand married men.

The average (mean) age at divorce increased slightly for both men and women in 2012 (Figure 4 and tables 2a and 2b – Number of divorces, age at divorce and marital status before marriage (285.5 Kb Excel sheet)). The mean age for men divorcing was 44.7 years in 2012, an increase from

44.5 years in 2011. For women this increased from 42.1 years in 2011 to 42.2 years in 2012.

The mean age at divorce generally declined for both males and females during the mid to late 1970s and generally remained stable in the early 1980s. Since 1985 the mean ages at divorce for men and women have increased, rising by 7.3 years for both men and women. This trend is consistent with increases in the mean age at marriage. The difference between the mean age of husband and wife at divorce has remained relatively unchanged over the last four decades, with a difference of around

2.5 years except for the years 1974 to 1976 when it was 2.0 years.

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Duration of marriage The median duration of marriage (the median is the mid point of the distribution – see background note 7) for divorces granted in 2012 was 11.5 years, which was the same as in 2011. This is an increase from 11.1 years in 2002 (see table 4 – Age at marriage, duration of marriage and cohort analyses (486 Kb Excel sheet)).

The Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 came into effect in England and Wales on 12 October 1984. The Act replaced the discretionary time bar (minimum time interval between the date of marriage and being able to file a petition for divorce) of three years by an absolute time bar of one year. No petition can now be filed within the first year of marriage. The median duration of marriage for divorces granted in 1984 was 10.1 years. Following the change in legislation the median duration of marriage fell to 8.9 years for divorces granted in 1985. Since this change, the median duration

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between marriage and divorce increased steadily up to 2005 but has remained relatively stable since.

Marital status before marriage In 2012, 19% of men and women divorcing had their previous marriage end in divorce. These proportions have almost doubled since 1980 when the comparable figures were 10% (see table 7 – Number of divorces, age at divorce and marital status before marriage (285.5 Kb Excel sheet)).

In 2012, 71% of divorces were to couples where both parties were in their first marriage, while the remaining 29% were to couples where at least one of the parties had been divorced or widowed previously.

The percentage of couples divorcing where the marriage was the first for both parties generally declined from the early 1970s to 2006 before increasing to 2012. Over the same period however, the percentage of divorces where one or both parties were previously divorced gradually increased to 2006 before decreasing to 2012.

Fact proven at divorce

In 2012, of all decrees granted to one partner (rather than jointly to both), 65% were granted to the wife (see table 1 – Number of divorces, age at divorce and marital status before marriage (285.5 Kb Excel sheet)). In over half (54%) of the cases where the divorce was granted to the wife, the husband’s behaviour was the fact proven (see background note 8). Of the divorces granted to the husband, the most common facts proven were the wife’s behaviour (37% of cases) and two years’ separation with consent (32% of cases). Very few decrees (0.04%) were granted jointly to husband and wife.

Children of divorced couples

Almost half (48%) of couples divorcing in 2012 had at least one child aged under 16 living in the family (see table 1 – Children of divorced couples (110.5 Kb Excel sheet)). There were 99,822 children aged under 16 who were in families where the parents divorced in 2012, a decrease of 33% from 2002 when there were 149,335 children. Over a fifth (21%) of the children in 2012 were under five and 64% were under 11. In 2012, there was an average of 1.75 children aged under 16 per divorcing couple with one or more children aged under 16. This compares with 1.84 in 2002. These changes may reflect the increasing proportion of children born to cohabiting, rather than married couples (see table 2 in birth statistics package Characteristics of Mother 1).

Proportion of marriages ending in divorce

The percentage of marriages ending in divorce has generally increased for those marrying between the 1970s and the early 1990s. For example, 22% of marriages in 1972 had ended in divorce by the 15th wedding anniversary, whereas 32% of marriages in 1997 had ended after the same period of time (see table 2 and additional commentary to aid interpretation – Age at marriage, duration of marriage and cohort analysis (486 Kb Excel sheet)). However, for the most recent cohorts, those

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marrying since 2000, there is some evidence of decreases between successive cohorts in the proportion of marriages ending in divorce.

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