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Is Divorce on the rise in Northern Ireland?

What can we learn from 2021 UK divorce statistics?

Last week the Office of National Statistics released its data on divorces in 2021 in England and Wales. Wilson Nesbitt Family Law Senior Associate, Ciara Barlow, discusses these statistics and what we can learn from them.

The latest numbers found that last year there were 113,505 divorces granted in England and Wales, a 9.6% increase compared with 2020, where there were 103,592 divorces.

35.3 % divorce increase in Northern Ireland 

The release follows the Northern Ireland stats, which were announced in September by the Registrar General Annual Report. It found that in 2021 there were 2,040 divorces registered. This is an increase of 35.3% since 2020, when the divorce numbers were at 1, 507 in Northern Ireland.

In both cases, the number and timelines of divorces granted in 2020 may have been affected by disruption to family court activities during the Coronavirus pandemic. The increase in divorces in 2021, reflects the delays and the impact of the pandemic on people’s relationships. 

Lockdown Delays

It’s also thought that the mini-housing boom affected divorce enquiries, as couples felt they could confidently sell their property and part ways. Couples who couldn’t work through their problems saw that the buoyant housing market offered them an opportunity to start the legal process of divorce and resolve finances when houses were selling for profit. 

Women vs Men rates

In Northern Ireland, the most popular age for both men and women for getting divorced in 2021 was between 45 – 49, at 18% for men compared to 16% for women. With one in four divorcing couples being married for 10 – 14 years. 

The ONS figures show that in England and Wales, divorce rates in 2021 were 9.3 for men and 9.4 for women per 1,000 of the married population (including both opposite-sex and same-sex couples); in comparison, the rates in 2020 were lower, with 8.5 for men and 8.6 for women per 1,000 of the married population.

Grounds for Divorce in NI

The most popular reason for divorce in Northern Ireland was two years separation with consent, closely followed by 5 years separation. Meaning that a couple had been living separately for either two or five years. 

  • 44% of divorces happened on the grounds of non-cohabitation, two years
  • 29% of divorces happened on the grounds of non-cohabitation, five years
  • 15% of divorces happened on the grounds of behaviour
  • 8% of divorces happened on combined grounds 
  • 1.5% of divorces happened on the grounds of adultery

Most common reasons for Divorce in England and Wales

In 2021 in England and Wales, unreasonable behaviour was the most common reason for females petitioning for divorce among opposite-sex couples in 2021, accounting for almost 50% of applications. Whereas for males, the most common reasons were unreasonable behaviour or two-year separation, which accounted for 34.8% of applications.

No Fault Divorce 

These divorce rates will likely be further impacted in 2022 as England and Wales introduced the ‘No fault divorce legislation’ in April. 

Essentially no-fault divorce removes the requirement to provide evidence of ‘conduct’ or ‘separation’. It replaces this with a simple requirement to give a statement of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage or civil partnership. Meaning that a couple can be divorced without blaming the partner or proving the marriage breakdown.

Changing the statistics landscape

Going forward, it will become increasingly more difficult to even compare the statistics from Northern Ireland with England and Wales – as the No Fault legislation will separate the stats playing field.  

Will No Fault Divorce eventually come into place in Northern Ireland?

The introduction of No Fault Divorce in Northern Ireland has been kept under review, it is anticipated that the current developments in England and Wales will accelerate reform. 

No Fault certainly has its benefits, with its impact showing a reduced hostility between separating couples, helping promote healthy relationships following divorce. This element would be particularly important for separating couples with children.

Get in Touch

If you require legal advice on separation or divorce from Ciara Barlow and our team of expert Family Law solicitors, contact us on 0800 840 1363 or by making an email enquiry here.

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