Are the number of divorces falling?

How Many?

The Office for National Statistics has released some interesting figures for 2018, which tend to indicate, at first glance that the number of divorces are falling in England and Wales.

Opposite-sex couples.

There were 90,871 divorces of opposite-sex couples in 2018, a decrease of 10.6 per cent compared with 2017 and the lowest number since 1971.  The average duration of marriage among opposite-sex couples who divorced in 2018 was 12.5 years.

Same sex couples.

There were 428 divorces of same-sex couples in 2018, increasing from 338 in 2017; of these, three-quarters were among female couples. Divorces among same-sex couples were first recorded in 2015 and annual increases have been seen each year since then, reflecting growth in the size of the same-sex married population in England and Wales.


Unreasonable behaviour was the most common reason for opposite-sex couples divorcing in 2018. It accounted for almost half (46.3 per cent) of all decrees absolute granted, with 51.9 per cent of wives and 36.8 per cent of husbands petitioning on this ground. It was also the most common reason for same-sex couples divorcing.

Two years separation with consent was the second most common ground for divorces granted in 2018 and accounted for more than one-quarter of divorces (26.8 per cent), while five years’ separation without consent accounted for 16.1 per cent of divorces. Most of the remaining divorces were granted on grounds of adultery (10.1 per cent) and 0.8 per cent were for desertion and a combination of two or more grounds.

So is this decrease a sign that less people are divorcing?

The Ministry of Justice’s Family Court Statistics Quarterly 2018 report indicates that a backlog of work last year resulted in the number of divorce petitions increasing by 8% in 2018. This backlog of work has resulted in a five-week increase to the average time taken from date of petition to decree absolute in 2018 (to 54.3 weeks).

Add to the delay caused by this backlog, all of those couples in limbo waiting for the law to change on ‘no fault divorce’, we expect to see the numbers of divorces in 2019 and 2020 to rise quite sharply.

The bill concerning ‘no fault’ divorces is currently off the table until after the General Election at which point it is expected to be re-presented to the Commons.