Published on 07 February, 2018 | Sam Hall

Sam Hall - Hall Brown Family Law

It’s fair to say that the last four decades have not treated the institution of marriage terribly well.

In the early 1970s, the introduction of divorce legislation prompted a dramatic increase in the number of spouses choosing to exit their marriages.

By 1993, there were a record 165,000 divorces, more than twice the figure recorded only 22 years before.

That upward trend has contributed to the perception that marriage is well and truly out of fashion. In fact, University College London actually hosted a debate in 2014 about whether marriage was outdated.

A doubling in cohabition since divorce reached its peak has further fuelled that belief.

Yet, the most recent data suggests something else. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), there were nearly a quarter of a million marriages across England and Wales during 2014.

Although nowhere near the all-time high (426,241 – ironically recorded in 1973, the very Matrimonial Causes Act which shook up divorce took its place on the statute book), the 2014 figure was up 2.7 per cent on the year before.

Compare that rise, then, with the declining numbers of divorces.

In 2016, there were one-third fewer marriages ending in this fashion than in 1993.

It is perhaps too simplistic, though, to conclude that it’s actually divorce which is no longer in vogue.

Furthermore, if we pay more attention to the details, possible reasons for the drop emerge.

As I’ve been telling Steve Doughty, the Daily Mail’s Social Affairs Correspondent, it is women who appear to be driving the pattern.

Over the course of the last 25 years, the number of wives filing for divorce has fallen by 45 per cent, compared to the 10 per cent reduction in husbands initiating the end of a marriage.

That considerable shift becomes easier to understand when you contemplate the context.

Notably, the idea of what constitutes a fair divorce settlement has been revised repeatedly since London was first dubbed ‘the world’s divorce capital’ just over a decade ago.

Back then, a high-water mark was reached with awards such as that made Melissa Miller, who received a near one-third share of her financier husband’s £17 million fortune after a childless, three-year marriage.

Nine years later, Tracey Wright, the former wife of a racehorse vet, was being told by a judge that it was “imperative that the wife go out to work and support herself”.

Add to that, the impact of women who have made their mark in business and acquired the attendant wealth too. Many a ‘breadwinning wife’ has come to realise the costly prospect of supporting their husbands in the manner to which women have become accustomed in the past.

Together, those two new realities have combined to oblige wives to try and overcome domestic difficulties – albeit for different reasons – rather than issue a divorce petition.

It is too early to suggest that English courts have shaken off their ‘wife-friendly’ tag but there certainly seems to be something of a reset of arrangements which arguably puts the process of divorce on a more even footing for husbands and wives.

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