Background image

Divorce rates hit 44-year low but still vital to consider careful planning


Divorce rates are at their lowest level for 44 years according to a new report which has been published by the Office of National Statistics.

According to the ONS, the average length of a marriage is 12.2 years and in 2017, there were just 8.4 divorces of opposite-sex couples per 1,000 married men and women. This is the lowest recorded divorce rate since 1973.

Although it may be relatively straightforward to get divorced (and it could become easier if plans to overhaul divorce laws come to fruition) we would urge couples to consider careful planning before taking the decision to separate.

Family Lawyer Joanne Matthews says:

“We may be seeing falling divorce rates, but the rate remains unchanged for those aged 60+. Divorces for the so-called “silver splitters” can be complicated because there are potentially more assets which need to be considered. Pensions, housing provision, joint accounts and investments can make even the most amicable separation tricky.”

The ONS 2017 Divorce statistics

Let’s take a look at the current divorce statistics….

  • There were 101,669 divorces of opposite-sex couples in England and Wales in 2017
  • There were 338 divorces of same-sex couples in 2017. Three-quarters of same-sex couples divorcing in 2017 were female.
  • There were 8.4 divorces of opposite-sex couples per 1,000 married men and women aged 16 years and over.
  • The average duration of marriage at the time of divorce was 12.2 years for opposite-sex couples. For same sex couples, the average duration of marriage was 3.5 years for men and 2.8 years for women.
  • Compared with 2016, divorce rates in 2017 for both men and women have decreased across every age group except for those aged 60 years and over where rates remained unchanged.
  • Compared with 2015, divorce rates in 2017 have increased for men aged 45 years and over and for women aged 50 years and over.
  • Unreasonable behaviour remains the most common reason for divorce for both opposite-sex and same-sex couples. 52% of wives and 37% of husbands in opposite-sex marriages petition on these grounds. This compares to 83% of women and 73% of men in same-sex marriages.

Nicola Haines, Vital Statistics Outputs Branch, Office for National Statistics says:

“Divorce rates for opposite-sex couples in England and Wales are at their lowest level since 1973, which is around forty per cent lower than their peak in 1993. However, among older people rates are actually higher in 2017 than in 1993 – perhaps due to the fact we have an increasingly ageing population and people are getting married later in life.”

Dealing with difficult situations and forward planning

Coping with divorce is always difficult. Regardless of how long you’ve been married, how many children you have or how many assets you may need to split, it will almost always be an emotional time for couples. That’s why we take the time to sit and work closely with our clients to help them make any family separation as amicable as possible

As family law specialists, we believe in non-conflict resolutions, and where possible, support clients to reach agreements outside of the court room.

Finally, it is generally our advice to sort out all financial matters before finalising the divorce – and to write a new Will.

Joanne Matthews says:

“Completing a divorce before you have a financial agreement may have serious and unintended repercussions. The legal issues can be complex even if your circumstances appear to be straightforward – and no matter how amicable the divorce is.”

Although family separations can be a complex area of the law, at Burnett Barker we have the expertise and compassion to help support you through even the most complex of splits.

We’re here to help. To find out how we can support you through the divorce, please call us on 01284 701131 or email