Divorce, Delay And The Economy
Published on 18 November, 2020 | Alison Fernandes
Even in the most amicable of relationships, the breakdown of a marriage can be a time of significant tension.
Once the decision has been made – by one spouse or both – that divorce is the only option, there is often a commitment to dealing with the process as simply and as swiftly as possible.
That is something which myself and my colleagues at Hall Brown do our best to assist with, knowing full well that parents who are separating need to maintain good relations into the future for the good of their children.
We also insist on couples considering counselling to determine if they really have reached the point of no return before embarking on a divorce.
I should point out that – regardless of countless media reports over the years about celebrities opting for a ‘quickie’ divorce – the process itself is not necessarily rapid.
It involves obtaining two decrees (nisi and absolute), the second of which can only be applied for six weeks and one day after a court has granted the first. On top of that, it’s usually necessary to consider and agree upon how best to divide the marital assets.
A timeframe lasting months can be difficult enough for some individuals who – having made the decision to leave a marriage – want to get on with their new, non-married lives.
Any delays in dealing with the administration of divorce, however, can create frustration.
I’ve been reminded of that issue by the publication of the latest figures by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on divorce (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/divorce/bulletins/divorcesinenglandandwales/2019).
On the face of it, a casual reader might consider that 2019 saw mayhem and tremendous upheaval in homes across in England and Wales.
Divorces rose by almost one-fifth overall with a near doubling in the number of same-sex marriages ending this way.
Things become a little less fevered when you consider the impact of the kind of procedural delays to which I’ve already referred.
Many of the divorces concluded last year were part of a backlog which had seen the regional centres handling petitions roundly criticised and resulted in many of them being closed as part of the Government’s drive to make operations more efficient (https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/hmcts-shuts-heavily-criticised-divorce-centres-/5102940.article).
Given that it was a situation which meant divorces took longer to finalise, there was certainly no little tension among couples facing up to the process which, in some circumstances, took twice as long as normal.
Even allowing for the effect of delays, though, there was still a six per cent rise in divorce last year compared to 2017 – a not insubstantial development in anyone’s estimation.
I reckon that it won’t have merely been a coincidence that 2019 saw the slowest rate of growth in the UK economy since the end of the last recession (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/uk-recession-economy-gdp-brexit-growth-ons-latest-a9197946.html).
As horrid as it sounds, divorce is, sadly, something of a barometer of wider economic pressures. Loss of jobs and reduction of income both make their presence felt in households across the country.
One aspect of that pattern is the strain felt by women.
Whilst the so-called ‘glass ceiling’ hasn’t been completely shattered, women now occupy more senior, more prominent and more well-paid positions in the workplace.
In addition, the number of women opting to run their own businesses has increased over the last decade, as a House of Commons research paper published only in March made clear.
That professional progression, however, brings its own challenges. When times are good, they can be regarded as positive but when the economic climate turns decidedly chilly, then things can be more difficult both at the office and at home.
It might be one reason why although the overall proportion of women being granted divorces has been stable for a number of years, the ONS data reveals that the number of same-sex divorces involving women has more than doubled within the space of only 12 months.
The economic situation now being experienced by these couples is arguably more intense than at any stage since the first same-sex marriages at the end of March 2014.
Same-sex spouses are, therefore, facing these pressures for the first time and some have been left unable to cope.
Without fear of being accused of exaggeration, I fully expect to find that financial pressures have taken their toll on more same-sex and heterosexual marriages by the time that the ONS releases its next tranche of divorce data in a year’s time.
Whilst couples become used to confronting and overcoming all kinds of troubles during the course of their marriages, money worries are all too frequently responsible for husbands and wives agreeing that they cannot go on.