Divorce rates rose after first coronavirus lockdown

Divorce rates rose by nearly 10% after the first Covid-19 lockdown, figures show.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that in 2021 there were 113,505 divorces granted in England and Wales – a 9.6% increase compared with 2020 when there were 103,592 divorces.

It is thought the number of divorces granted during 2020 may have been affected by disruption to family court activities during the pandemic.

The increase in divorces granted in 2021 may partially reflect these delays as well as the impact of the pandemic on divorce applications.

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Divorce lawyers said the figures could be the “tip of the iceberg” as people who decided to split during the first lockdown have now been separated for two years.

According to the ONS, most divorces in 2021, some 111,934, were among opposite-sex couples, with only 1,571 (1.4%) among same-sex couples.

Female couples made up 67.2% of same-sex divorces.

Among opposite-sex couples in 2021, two thirds of divorce petitioners were female, which was a similar rate to 2020.

The ONS said unreasonable behaviour was the most common reason for females petitioning for divorce among opposite-sex couples in 2021, accounting for nearly half of applications.

For males, the most common reasons for divorce were unreasonable behaviour or two-year separation, which both accounted for 34.8% of applications.

Amanda Sharfman, from the ONS, said: “It is important to remember that divorces in both 2020 and 2021 may have been affected by disruption to family court activities because of the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on divorce applications.

“If we look at trends over a longer period of time, we have seen changes in the percentage of marriages ending in divorce by their 10th wedding anniversary.

“Back in 1965, one in 10 couples who married that year were divorced by their 10th anniversary. This increased to one in four couples for those married in 1995.

“However, for couples married in 2011, we have seen a decrease, with fewer than one in five marriages ending in divorce by their 10th wedding anniversary.”

Solicitor Carrie Rudge, from Hedges Law, said the introduction of no fault divorces earlier this year may see an increase in the numbers.

“It’s not surprising to see that divorce rates were up by 9.6% in 2021 compared to the year before,” she said.

“During uncertain times such as during the pandemic, couples can delay divorce so not to destabilise things further, especially if they have highly complex assets or own a business.

“Last year, many couples will likely have decided to separate, unable to face another lockdown together, and with two years being the average length of separation, we may be just starting to see the tip of the iceberg on the number of divorces now coming through.”

Andrew Watson, a family lawyer at Osbornes Law, said: “The fact that the numbers are up shows just how much our lives were affected by the pressure cooker situation caused by lockdown, prompting many couples to start divorce proceedings as soon as things started to open up again in 2021.

“Being together 24/7 forced problems that might have otherwise been pushed away to the surface.

“Looking ahead, we know from our experience this year that many couples chose to wait until the introduction of no fault divorce in April, which may push up next year’s figures.

“What we’re also starting to see now is a different challenge as couples looking to sell their homes and move on are being held back by the economic uncertainty and rising interest rates.”