In December 2011 the Office for National Statistics released divorce/civil partnership dissolution statistics for 2010.


In 2010 the divorce rate in England and Wales increased by 5.7 per cent to 11.1 divorcing people per thousand married population, compared with 10.5 in 2009.

Changes in the size of the adult population who are married, and therefore at risk of divorce, will affect both the number of divorces and the divorce rate. The rise in the overall divorce rate in 2010 was driven by both an increase in the number of divorces and a decrease in the size of the married adult population. This rise could simply mark the stabilisation of the divorce rate given the fall in divorce rate between 2005 and 2009.

The ONC offers by way of explanation that the small rise in the divorce rate and the number of divorces in 2010 could be associated with the economic climate following the 2008-09 recession. They suggest there are two competing theories exist relating to the effect of an economic downturn on the number of partnerships dissolving.

One theory suggests that recession could contribute to a rise in partnership break-ups because of increased financial strain, changes in employment and related lifestyle changes. Social research in Britain has shown that unemployment and downturns in the housing market may be associated with family instability.   In addition some individuals may believe they will get a more favourable divorce settlement if their income is currently low.

In contrast, an alternative theory suggests that partnerships would be less likely to dissolve in an unfavourable economic climate since couples would be less able to end the partnership for financial reasons – these may include the cost of lawyers, negative equity in housing or not being able to afford to maintain two households following divorce (see note 1).

The ONC feels it is too early to say whether the rise in divorces in 2010 will continue or is related to the economic climate. The figures show that divorce rates continued their downward trend during 2008 and 2009 but increased in 2010. This could be consistent with the theory that recession is associated with an increased risk of divorce, but with a delayed impact, perhaps reflecting  couples waiting for an economic recovery to lift the value of their assets.

Alongside the rise in divorces, Civil Partnership dissolutions also increased in 2010. However this is part of an upward trend given that this type of partnership is relatively new and therefore the numbers of those in civil partnerships is increasing.

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