Government urged to support marriage as divorce rate falls

(Photo: Sandy Millar)

The Government is being urged to support marriage as new data from the Office for National Statistics continues the downward trend in the number of married couples divorcing. 

Latest figures show that there were 90,871 divorces of opposite-sex couples in 2018, a decrease of 10.6% compared with 2017 and the lowest number since 1971.

The divorce rate among opposite-sex couples fell to 7.5 divorces per 1,000 married men and women from 8.4 in 2017, also the lowest seen for half a century.

The ONS qualified this fall in the divorce rate by saying that recent Ministry of Justice statistics revealed an administrative backlog at divorce centres in 2018, resulting in 8% more divorce petitions.  The ONS said that because of this, it was expecting a higher number of completed divorces in 2019.

Nonetheless, the ONS said the decrease in divorces between 2017 and 2018 "partly reflects the overall trend seen in recent years".

Harry Benson, Research Director for Marriage Foundation, said that in spite of the influence of the administrative backlog on the statistics, the figures were still good news.  

"Although administrative problems may have caused some divorces that should have gone through in 2018 to be delayed a year, this should not stop us from seeing the big story of the sustained long-term fall in divorce rates," he said.

"I calculate that couples who married five years ago have experienced a full 50 per cent fewer divorces compared to couples who married in the late 1980s, the peak years for divorce.

"We are now seeing overall divorce rates back at levels not seen since the late 1960s and, as a result, falls in the number of lone parent families in the UK.

"However we see no evidence whatsoever of a similar improvement in stability among unmarried cohabiting couples, whose break-up rates are typically three times higher.

"It used to be thought that as cohabiting became more commonplace, it would begin to look more like marriage. It turns out the reverse is true.

"We are seeing ever greater stability within marriage and instability out of it." 

He said that while lone parents should be supported in the "heroic work they do", stable families remain the "bedrock of our society", and should be supported by the government.

"If our new government wants to see more stability, it must clearly support marriage and not penalize it as is currently the case in our welfare system," he said.