The divorce rates in England and Wales have been steadily declining for many years. In 2017 we saw the number of new petitions for divorce at their lowest level since 1973, and around 40% lower than their peak in the 1990s. However, the statistics for the second quarter of 2018 (April to June) have recently been released by the ministry of justice. They show an 18% increase compared to the same period last year.
So what does this mean? This could turn out to be a short-lived increase that fails to impact on the overall downward trend. Alternatively, it may be the start of a new increase in the number of divorces. Only time will tell.
The story which the statistics do tell us clearly is the extreme pressure being faced by the family courts. Divorces are taking longer to complete; the average amount of time that passes from the divorce petition being issued, to the decree absolute ending the marriage, has increased to over a year on average.
All cases being dealt with by the family courts (including cases relating to children, domestic violence and divorce) increased by 7% in the quarter. In addition the courts are now grappling with more litigants in person (those who do not have the benefit of legal representation) than ever before. 38% of all cases in the family courts now have no lawyers appearing for either side, which in turn adds to the complexities and delays.
The strain the courts face is another reason why alternatives to court are increasingly being championed as a quicker and easier way to resolve family law disputes. These include mediation, collaborative law and arbitration. Family lawyers like myself now take clients through all other options available, to see if there is a way to find a solution outside of the over-burdened court system.