How Many Marriages end in Divorce in the UK?

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No one enters a marriage expecting it to end in a divorce, and we know it is a difficult and often painful process. But divorce happens all around the world, and although each divorce is different, you are certainly not alone in this experience.


It has often been said that 50% of marriages end in divorce. However, if you look at the past few years and decades of statistics, you can see the divorce rate is slowly decreasing. Some of the current trends include:


  • As of 2021, the average divorce rate in the UK is 42%.
  • In 2020, 42% of married couples got divorced with 103,592 British couples getting a divorce, a decrease of 4% compared to 2019. This year included the temporary suspension of some courts during the COVID-19 pandemic, which may have impacted the number and timeline of divorces, rather than reflecting the number of couples looking to divorce. Of these couples, 102,438 of these (98.9%) were opposite sex couples and 1,154 (1.1%) were same sex couples, with the majority being female same-sex divorces (71.3%).
  • In there were 107,599 divorces – an increase of 18.4% compared to 2018 (90,817 divorces).
  • The most common divorce age is between 40-44, with an average of 62% of divorce petitions petitioned by women.



In fact, prior to widespread belief and the more recent statistics, the divorce rate has dropped in recent years, with a gradual decline since 2000. The highest ever recording of divorce rate was in 1994 where 12.4 marriages out of 1000 ended up with a divorce. This was linked to recessions, which is not surprising as this adds a lot of extra strain onto families, businesses, and individuals.


Why are the divorce rates dropping?


A key factor is that less and less people are getting married. There were 234,795 marriages in England and Wales in 2018 (data from 2019-2020 is skewed due to the COVID-19 pandemic); a decrease of 3.3% compared with 2017 and the lowest since 2009, with a general decrease since their peak in 1970.


It is thought that more couples are choosing to live together for an extended period rather than get married, as cohabitation becoming increasingly accepted as an alternative to marriage or civil partnerships.


The average age of marrying couples is also rising, with more people getting married for the first time into their 30s rather than in their 20s. This indicates that these couples may be slightly more mature and established and therefore more able to handle relationship conflict before getting married, possibly helping them to avoid an early divorce.


Another suggestion is that focuses have shifted over the last few decades, with people opting to prioritise an education and career over a romantic partnership.  Business Insider (24th May, 2019) reported that priorities have changed with many choosing to marry late (or even choosing not to marry at all) “as they take time to get to know their partner, accumulate assets and become financially successful” before taking the next step.


What is the average amount of time couples are together before they get divorced?


Almost half of divorces happen in the first 10-12 years of marriage, and the rate is especially high between the fourth and eighth anniversary. Divorce rates are higher among couples in their 20s, however, the average age of divorce is 45 for men and 42 for women.


What are the most common reasons given in a petition for divorce?


Every marriage and divorce are unique, but there are some trends between common causes of people getting divorced. Under the previous divorce system, in place until April 2022, a divorce had to be based on one of five ‘facts’ which supported the idea that the marriage had broken down irretrievably. These ‘facts’ were raised at the following rates:


Opposite sex marriages:


  • Unreasonable behaviour (women 47.3%, men 33.8%).
  • 2-year separation with consent (men 34.7%, 27.3% women).
  • 5-year separation no consent (men 22.2%, 15% women).
  • Adultery (women 10%, men 8.96%).


Same sex marriages:


  • Unreasonable behaviour (56.9% men, 55.2% women).
  • 2-year separation with consent (37.9%, 36.6% men).
  • 5-year separation with no consent (3.64% men, 2.2% women).



When asked for the most common reasons outside of the actual term that was stated in the court?


The Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy (23rd July 2019) asked divorced couples across Europe why they split from their partner. These are the reasons that would not be used in court but are some of the main factors that can lead to a divorce. The reasons are as follows:


  • 47% of participants reported they split because of lack of intimacy.
  • 44% reported communication problems.
  • 34% reported a lack of sympathy, respect or trust.
  • But most said they were simply unhappy.


No-Fault Divorce


As of 6th April 2022, the new law on no-fault divorce in the UK was introduced, bringing long-awaited reforms to an area of law that had not previously changed since 1973.


Separating couples are no longer required to rely on one of the ‘five facts’ (adultery, unreasonable behaviour, 2-year separation with consent, 5-year separation without consent, desertion) to justify the ground for divorce.


It is hoped that this will create less unnecessary conflict during divorce cases, causing less emotional distress and fractured family relationships. Particularly in cases involving children, it is believed the new process will help families to make a smoother transition to their new normal.


You can read more on this in our blog focusing on no fault divorce:


Check out our other tips and trick on how to make your divorce as amicable as possible:


What is the difference between a divorce and a civil partnership dissolution?


A civil partnership is a legal relationship entered into by two people which is registered and provides couples with the same legal rights and duties that they would have in a lawful marriage. Civil partnerships may offer couples a modern alternative to marriage and may be appropriate where partners do not wish to be associated with traditional religious and/or patriarchal connotations of marriage.


Civil partnerships came about through the Civil Partnership Act 2004 and provided for same sex couples to have added security and recognition of their relationships through the law. Since this Act, couples in civil partnerships have the same rights as married couples. The process for dissolution of a civil partnership is also very similar to the process for a divorce, except that the process for a dissolution of a same sex civil partnership did not allow adultery to be relied upon, since the legal definition of adultery specifically refers to relations between a man and a woman.


As with divorce proceedings, dissolving a civil partnership is done by a court. However, with the new No-Fault divorce law, civil partners will use irretrievable breakdown of a relationship as their grounds of divorce, too. A divorce or civil partnership now takes a minimum of 6 months to fully dissolve, even if your circumstances stances are straightforward.


What are the differences in divorce rates between first and second marriages?


The median age of couples going through their first divorce is 30 years old, with an average of 41% of marriages ending in divorce. With second marriages, there is a 10% decrease in divorce rates with only 31% petitioning for divorce after the first year of marriage, with a further drop in divorce rates of third-time married couples.


a second marriag


Age is the most revealing factor of whether a marriage will stand the test of time. The increased affluence of couples entering second and third marriages was cited as one reason older couples had a better likelihood of making their marriage work (Harry Benson, Communications Director at The Marriage Foundation and author of “Second Marriage: Triumph of Decision over Hope?”). Young newlyweds, in contrast, may struggle with the financial upheaval after a wedding and possibly moving into their first home.


What are the main costs associated with divorce?


Understandably, a main reason a couple may hold off on a divorce is the worry over how much it might cost. The court fee for filing for divorce application in England and Wales is currently £593, but there are several other costs too that may need to be taken into consideration:


  • Legal fees (these will include retaining a solicitor to advise you).
  • Any financial settlement you must pay to your spouse.
  • Any child maintenance you are required to pay.


Are divorces more common in certain countries?


The crude divorce rate is the ratio of the number of divorces in a population during a reference period over the person-years lived by the population during the same period. It is expressed as divorces per 1,000 population.


Interestingly, countries with the highest divorce rates are as follows: Russia, Belarus, Gibraltar, United States, Moldova, Lithuania, Belgium, Cuba, Czech Republic, Ukraine.


Do you need help filing for divorce?


Each of our divorce lawyers are people first. We are compassionate, understanding, but also have a wealth of experience.


Every Solicitor at Harbour Family Law understands that divorcing is a tough time in your life, and if you are considering taking these steps, we are dedicated to helping you every step of the way towards a respectful outcome with minimal added stress. Contact us today to start benefiting from high quality legal advice.



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Harbour Family Law are a firm of collaboratively trained family lawyers, based in the wider Bristol area. We always aim to help our clients towards a fair, respectful solution, and preserve family relationships as far as possible. Contact us today for a free initial conversation about your matter.