News and Events

What caused the divorce spike in 2019?

View profile for Laura Martin-Read
  • Posted
  • Author

As the Government announces via the Office for National Statistics that divorces in England and Wales exceeded 100,000 last year (2019), the media are widely reporting this as a significant increase of 18.4% on the previous year where cases were around the 90,000 mark.

Laura Martin-Read a solicitor in the family team at Family Law Group, Milton Keynes examines the reasons for this below.

The Office for National Statistics states that a casework backlog from 2018 could partly account for the increase and most divorce specialists would agree that the court system in 2018 was frankly, in chaos. There were lengthy delays on the issuing of new divorce applications and problems progressing divorces through the court system, with case timescales increasing from an average of 4-6 months to more than 9 months in many cases. 

At Family Law Group, we certainly found that during 2018 and the early part of 2019 the system was overrun. It is likely therefore, that the delay and backlog from 2018 will have compounded the increase in divorce numbers in 2019 and potentially the figure is somewhat over-inflated.

As we look ahead to 2021 now, having experienced family law through the Covid-19 Pandemic in 2020, it is suspected that most family lawyers in England and Wales will be anticipating another increase for 2020, when the Office for National Statistics release their figures next year. 

At Family Law Group, our inquiries have certainly risen in the past six months and it is a sad reality that the lockdown periods combined with the inevitable financial strain on couples arising from redundancies, furlough payments, and other economic uncertainty has resulted in more relationship breakdown than ever before.

The Office for National Statistics has commented that the increase in divorces during 2019, was the largest in percentage terms, since 1972 when the introduction of the Divorce Reform Act 1969 made it easier for couples to divorce. The next big reform to divorce law has been passed through Parliament this year and will introduce no-fault divorce in England and Wales for the first time. Practitioners are being advised that it will likely be implemented in autumn 2021 and therefore, from late next year we hope to be able to issue new divorce applications without laying fault at one party. 

This is something that Family Law Group along with many other members of Resolution have been advocating for many years and Resolution and family lawyers alike have generally welcomed the reforms. Our solicitors are already advising clients about the potential of waiting until autumn 2021 to start the divorce process when the no-fault divorce will come into play, but at this stage, the client’s financial circumstances often mean that the divorce cannot wait another year. As we get closer to autumn 2021, we anticipate that many clients will choose to wait for one, two, or three months to commence their divorce application, if they can do so without fault being attributed to their former spouse. It is certainly going to make resolving finances and children matters between separating couples easier if they have not had to blame one another for the breakdown of the marriage when divorcing.

As experienced family lawyers, we would predict that in summer 2021, we may see a dip in the issuing of new divorce applications while people wait for the new law to come into force. The concern as a family law practitioner is that in autumn 2021, on the date when the new no-fault divorce law comes into force, we will see a huge spike in new divorce applications and we have to wonder whether the Court system will cope.

 The new online divorce portal which is accessible by both solicitors and litigants in person has taken a huge amount of pressure off the Regional Divorce Centres and improved timescales significantly in the last few months. An online divorce can take in the region of 3-4 months to complete and if the Courts can cope with the likely spike in divorce cases in autumn next year, hopefully, this reasonable and sensible timescale can continue. 

For further specialist advice on divorce or any other separation matters, please contact Laura Martin-Read on 01908 787900 or email