Divorce in the last 20 years: How has it actually changed?

How have reasons for divorce changed in the last 20 years?

Twenty-two percent of couples will suffer a marital disruption in their first 5 years of marriage according to the National Centre for Health Statistics. After 20 years of marriage there’s a 53% chance that your marriage will end in divorce. 

In 1960, UK divorce rates were at their lowest for 5 years, with 24,000 couples deciding to annul their marriages legally. By 1996 that figure had risen to over 157,000. Britain had seen big societal changes in the latter years of the century and people’s lifestyles changed, as a result, so did their reasons for divorcing their partners.

There can be many reasons for the breaking down of a marriage or relationship however the reasons recognised by law are:

  1. Unreasonable behaviour – This can mean any reason that makes the relationship impossible to continue e.g. violence.
  2. Adultery – The petitioner must prove with evidence that their spouse has had sexual relationship with another person.
  3. Desertion – When your partner has deserted you for more than two years; one of the rarer reasons granted for divorce.
  4. Separation with consent – This can be granted once the two parties of the relationship have lived apart from each other for more than two years.
  5. Separation without consent – After 5 years of separation, the petitioner can apply for divorce without their spouse’s consent.

The days of sex being a taboo in everyday conversations are over and naturally with the increase in casual sex becoming more socially accepted, so have the number of reported adulteries being the reason for the breakage in a couple’s marriage. Given the breakthrough in social media and the internet, you’d be forgiven for making the presumption that the adultery rate would increase given the ease of making new friendships and being connected to nearly every human on the planet on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, however according to the Office for National Statistics, adulteries being one of the primary reasons for a couple’s divorce have actually decreased since 1996.

‘It’s not you, it’s me’, ‘We can’t work through this’. As cliche as they are, they’re still the most common reasons for divorce in the past 20 years. Not completely beyond a stretch of imagination as it’s the broadest category. Incompatibility, financial issues, unrealistic expectations of marriage all are signs your marriage could be headed down a slippery slope.

With the change in divorce legislation in 1969, petitioners were allowed to divorce their spouses after two years of separation and consent and then after 5 years of separation and no consent. Since 1996 it’s been a big reason for couple’s divorcing. 

It’s interesting to note how the sample size and range decreases more recently, with only a total of 107,000 taking part in 2016’s survey compared to the 156,201 in 1996. A reason for this could be that couples are cohabiting from younger ages and due to the secularisation of modern day society and the decline in religious adherence there’s less interest in getting married. However decline in people’s interest in getting marriage is not the only reason for the fall in divorce rates, there’s a number of factors which also have had bearing. Will divorce rates continue to fall in the next 50 years and what will be the main reasons? Only time will tell.

Source: National Office for Statistics (ONS).