Pandemic Divorce Figures not Reflective of True Number of Separating Couples, Experts say

Posted on: 1 min read
Lorraine Harvey

Partner, Family Law

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ONS data shows a 4.5% drop in divorces in 2020.

The number of divorces in 2020 dropped by around 5% in comparison to the previous year according to the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) data, but that is not reflective of the true number of couples calling it quits according to family law experts.

According to the data there were 104,592 divorces granted in England and Wales in 2020 – a marked decrease of 4.5per cent in comparison to 2019.

However, divorce lawyer Lorraine Harvey says the figures are not reflective of the number of enquiries her team at law firm Simpson Millar processed, with many relationship problems further compounded by the pandemic.

Instead, she says court backlogs and people choosing to delay proceedings while they dealt with the challenges of lockdown and Covid-19 is more indicative of the drop.

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  • "There most certainly wasn’t a reduction in the number of couples looking to split during the pandemic. If anything, we saw a real spike in enquiries throughout 2020 and 2021. The stresses caused by home schooling, furlough, the severity of Covid and the potential impact to health, isolation from friends and loved ones and the continued uncertainty around what the future had in store put immense strain on many marriages, and sadly many didn’t survive. All through the pandemic the team were incredibly busy advising on relationship breakdowns, and particularly children disputes"

    Lorrain Harvey, Family Law Partner

    Simpson Millar Solictors

Lorraine says the drop in completed divorces is also more likely to be the result of significant backlogs in the family courts, and people opting to ‘sort things out themselves’ before making things official.

"What we have seen over the last six months or so is a real desire to keep things as amicable as possible during proceedings.

Many of our clients are now opting to use our one lawyer divorce service, which is called Separating Together and is designed to help reduce the emotional and financial burden normally associated with divorce.

We are also working with some clients who are waiting for ‘no-fault’ to come into force in April." - Lorraine Harvey, Family Law Partner

According to the ONS data, for same-sex divorces unreasonable behaviour was the most common reason for divorce in 2020 for both female and male couples; unreasonable behaviour accounted for 55.2% of female divorces and 57.0% of male divorces.

A recent poll carried out by national consumer law firm Simpson Millar revealed that that three-quarters (74%) of divorcing couples want to ‘keep things civil’.

According to the survey*, one in four people who have been divorced or are in the process of getting a divorce said that they had not been able to keep it amicable, with women (30%) and 18-24s (39%) most likely to struggle with this.

*In February 2021 Simpson Millar conducted a survey of 1,000 UK adults who have been divorced / or are in the process of getting a divorce.

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