News and Events

Divorce rates drop but separation still on the rise

View profile for Sam Miles
  • Posted
  • Author

Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have shown that divorce rates are on the decline however separation is increasing; indicating that a growing number of couples are choosing not to marry.  Sam Miles, Family Partner, reviews the figures here and explains the steps that couples should take if they decide to cohabit instead of marrying.

The main figures from ONS show that:

  • in 2017 there were 8.4 divorces per 1,000 in heterosexual married couples; the lowest rate since 1973,
  • the number of same-sex couples getting divorced has increased from 112 in 2016 to 338 in 2017, which is likely to be because there are more same-sex marriages taking place now since it became legal in 2014 and separation may be less likely in the first years of a marriage;
  • marriages between heterosexual couples are now lasting an average of 12.2 years; and
  • the number of couples divorcing after three years of marriage has dropped by half over the last 25 years. 

“The last figure could be explained due to the rising age in those deciding to marry,” explains Sam.  “Those in their teens and early twenties are seen at the most at risk of divorcing if they marry at that age with the average age of people marrying now being 37.5 years for men and 35.1 for women.  Interestingly though the highest rate of divorce for men is between the ages of 45 to 49 years and in women aged 40 to 44 years.”

Reason for divorce

Unreasonable behaviour is still the most common cause given for separation with 52% of wives and 37% of husbands petitioning for this reason in heterosexual couples.  Unreasonable behaviour was also the most common reason in same sex couples, accounting for 83% of divorces in women and 73% in men.

“While it is positive news that divorce rates are on the decrease, it is likely that part of the decline can be attributed to the fact that less people are getting married,” concludes Sam.  “There is evidence to show that those couples who are together but not married are three times more likely to separate than a married couple, as there is no legal tie.  There is less legal provision for cohabiting couples however, which is something that should be addressed with the number of cohabiting couples rising. 

“Cohabiting couples should be aware of the importance of making a Will, Declaration of Trust or Cohabitation Agreement if they do choose not to marry, as these legal documents can protect them if their partner dies or the relationship does fail.  If you do decide to divorce or separate, it is also of paramount importance to consider the children in the relationship and if decisions cannot be made amicably, family mediation may be required.”

If you are considering divorce or separation, or you are a cohabiting couple and would like advice, you can contact Sam or a member of the Family team on 023 8071 7431 or email


This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.