Bad news for divorce lawyers




Bad news for divorce lawyers, good news for teens
as more parents face children’s teenage years together


Traditionally, January has seen a spike in the number of couples deciding to end their marriage, following a stressful festive period. However, new research released today suggest that this month could be quieter for divorce lawyers than expected. While teenage years may have a reputation for being difficult and volatile, an increasing number of parents are staying married long enough to weather these storms together.

New analysis by the Marriage Foundation of two large national surveys provide the first hard evidence that falling divorce rates are translating into falling rates of family breakdown for teens. Data from the Family Resources Survey and Understanding Society both show that the proportion of 13 to 15 year olds not living with both natural parents has fallen to 36 per cent in 2016-8.

Parallel data from the Office of National Statistics shows that the divorce rates for couples who have been married for 15 years has fallen from 31 per cent in 2005 to 28 per cent in 2017, and are predicted to fall to 23 per cent within the next decade. As 90 per cent of intact parents with teens are married, these statistics show a clear improvement in family stability.

The UK has the highest level of family instability in the developed world. This has serious consequences for children’s outcomes – Marriage Foundation research has shown that family breakdown is the single biggest predictor of teenage mental health problems. Family breakdown costs the taxpayer £51 billion a year, much of which is on benefits to support lone parent families.

Today’s findings suggest a happier, more settled new year ahead for many of Britain’s teens.

Key findings:

  • Data from the Family Resources Survey shows that the proportion of teens aged 13 to 15 not living with both natural parents has fallen from 40 per cent in 2004/5 to 36 per cent in 2016/17.
  • Equivalent data from Understanding Society shows that the proportion has fallen from 44 per cent in 2009/10 to 36 per cent in 2015/16.
  • Although the figures vary, both show a consistent downward trend to the same level of marriage breakdown.
  • Data from the Office of National Statistics show that cumulative divorce rates among couples completing 15 years of marriage have fallen from 31 per cent in 2005 to 28 per cent in 2017, and are set to fall further to 23 per cent within the next decade.

Full report available at

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Harry Benson, research director of Marriage Foundation, the think tank dedicated to promoting stable families, commented: “This is the first really clear evidence that family stability has improved as a direct consequence of lower divorce rates. And, on current trends, this is likely to improve further. Since nine out of ten parents with teenagers who are still together are married, what happens to married parents is vastly more significant than what happens to unmarried parents. If family breakdown can reduce without any input whatsoever from government, imagine what could happen if the government had a clear policy to reverse the trend away from marriage and commitment. This is good news for couples, good news for children, and good news with which to begin 2019.”

Sir Paul Coleridge, founder and chairman of Marriage Foundation, added: “So far as couple relationships are concerned, most of the focus recently has been on minority groups. This new research is unashamedly about the overwhelming majority – the 90 % who marry and stay married. To have solid evidence that the vast majority – the marrieds – are divorcing less is truly significant so far as impact on the national picture overall is concerned. And it is obviously seriously good news for teenagers who need their parents to be together during these high stress years. While we must not be complacent, for the majority the tide seems at last to have changed, the tanker of family breakdown is turning and it is set to continue.

Although the headline suggests, light heartedly, that this might be bad news for divorce lawyers, it is certainly extremely good news for the Family Courts. They have been under unremitting strain for at least two decades (as I can personally attest to) caused by the huge increase in the caseload of broken families at the same time as a cutting of resources. A simple reduction in numbers is, for them, the best and quickest remedy.”


Notes to editors

Sir Paul Coleridge, Harry Benson and Michaela Hyde from the Marriage Foundation are available for comment and for interviews linked to these new findings.

To discuss interviews, please contact Harry Benson on 07515 699187 or [email protected].

For all other media enquiries, please contact Rhoda Hardie on 0781 542 7111 or [email protected].

About Marriage Foundation

Marriage Foundation was founded in 2012 by Sir Paul Coleridge, a High Court judge who was moved by his personal experience in 40 years as a barrister and judge specialising in family law. The think tank seeks to improve public understanding of marriage and to reduce the numbers of people drawn into the family justice system – some 500,000 children and adults each year. It has established itself as a leading voice on marriage issues in the UK.

A source of statistics on marriage, cohabitation, commitment, divorce and family breakdown can be found on the Marriage Foundation website:

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