Divorces reached their lowest level in five decades, according to the Office for National Statistics – however, family lawyers say the figures may not necessarily reflect marital bliss.

Latest ONS data records 80,057 divorces granted in 2022, down from 113,505 the previous year and the lowest number since 1971. The ONS says the numbers may have been affected by ‘no-fault’ divorce reforms that came into force in 2022. The reforms introduced a minimum 20-week ‘cooling off’ period.

Hannah Minty, a partner in the family law team at Russell-Cooke, said: ‘If a divorce was applied for under the new system when it was introduced on 6 April 2022, it would not have been possible to apply for the first stage of divorce - the conditional order (previously the decree nisi) - until 24 August 2022. The earliest that any application for the final order (previously decree absolute) could have been submitted would have been 5 October 2022, although many couples delay making this application until they have reached a financial settlement.

‘Consequently, very few divorces applied for under the new system would appear in the 2022 statistics and the headline figures showing a decrease in divorce rates may not properly reflect the number of divorces which may have been applied for during this period.’

Caroline Holley, a partner at Farrer & Co, said the number of marriage breakdowns stemming from Covid lockdowns, coupled with Covid-related delays in divorce proceedings, may have contributed to ‘unusually high’ divorce figures in 2021, causing the noticeable drop the following year.

Nirali Adhia, a solicitor in the family and divorce team at Debenhams Ottaway, suggests divorce rates could rise, as the aftermath of Covid coincided with the cost-of-living crisis and rising interest rates.

Nirali Adhia

Nirali Adhia, family solicitor

Adhia said: 'Many couples who have been struggling with their relationships may have chosen to delay commencing divorce proceedings until there is more financial certainty, hence the fall in rates seen in 2022. Given the current cost of living crisis, it will be interesting to see whether couples continue to hold off divorcing until things settle and how this effects the divorce rates in the coming year.’

Another potential reason for the dip in divorce? Fewer marriages. ONS statistics for 2020 recorded the lowest number of marriages on record since 1838, Minty said.


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