Law changes have produced an expected blip in divorce at worst.
Ministry of Justice family court statistics up to the end of December 2022 came out today. I note that their ability to publish data three months on stands in stark contrast to ONS who still haven’t published marriage statistics for 2020, which ended a mere 27 months ago. Well done MoJ. Come on ONS.
What’s very clear from these new stats is that there hasn’t been a huge boom in divorce case starts following the move to ‘no fault’ divorce for all last April. Yes, there’s been a blip upwards. But it follows a blip downwards at the end of 2021, presumably as couples delayed their applications to take advantage of the new speedier rules.
Incidentally those rules are only speedier if you both wanted ‘no fault’: instead of waiting 2 years, you should now only have to wait around 9 months. For those where one spouse was previously willing to take all of the blame, 9 months is probably a bit slower.
Will this blip turn into a longer term uptrend? I don’t think so. In our previous research, we have shown that divorce rates during the first decade of marriage are where all of the change has occurred. More precisely, the rise in the 1970s and 1980s was due to more wives filing for divorce in the early years and the fall since the 1990s was due to fewer. I have long argued that the reduction in social pressure to marry means that those men – and it particularly applies to men – who marry are more committed. They marry because they ‘want to’ rather than ‘ought to’.
So divorce levels now are at the same levels we last saw back in the early 1970s. It doesn’t seem likely that they will fall much further from here. Nor does it seem likely that the main driver of divorce rates – social pressure and expectations – will change much. Barring a big change in government policy towards marriage, my best guess is that divorce rates will show minor fluctuations from here on.
Harry Benson, 30 March 2023