You can get a divorce in England and Wales if you have been married at least a year and can prove that your relationship has permanently broken down, either because of adultery, unreasonable behavior, desertion, living apart for more than 2 years and both agree to the divorce, or living apart for at least 5 years, even if your husband or wife disagrees.

Before the Divorce Reform Act was passed in 1969, divorce was hugely expensive as it had to be granted by an Act of Parliament, which meant only the rich were able to get divorced. This changed in 1857, when divorce proceedings transferred from Parliament to a Court of law, allowing ordinary people to divorce. The law changed again in 1923 to allow both men and women to divorce if they could prove adultery (before that, women had to prove adultery, as well as additional faults such as cruelty, rape and incest).

In 1937, three additional grounds of divorce were introduced, which were known as “matrimonial offences” and included cruelty, desertion and incurable insanity. It was only during the Second World War that the breakdown of marriages increased dramatically, due to the strain of war and its after-effects. It was evident that the divorce laws that were in place were no longer fit for purpose and desperately required modernising.

Since the Divorce Reform Act 1969, the number of divorces have increased significantly. The Office of National Statistics recently released their statistical bulletin on divorces in England and Wales for 2016.

The average length of a marriage in the UK is 12 years.

  • The average has stayed consistently at that level for the previous 15 years.

The divorce rate was up slightly in 2016 compared to the previous year.

  • There were 106,959 divorces of opposite-sex couples in 2016, an increase of 5.8% compared with 2015.
  • This is fairly close to the all-time low of 101,055 divorces in 2015 (since the Divorce Reform Act of 1969 made it a lot easier to get divorced).

42% of marriages end in divorce.

  • Around half of those divorces will occur within the first 10 years of marriage.

The average age for a divorcing couple is higher than it has ever been.

  • On average men are aged 46 and women aged 44.

The most common reason for divorce was unreasonable behavior, rather than adultery or separation.

  • 51% of all divorces commenced by women were on the basis of their spouses’ unreasonable behavior. Only 36% of husbands relied on that fact.

Unlike married families, cohabiting families are the fastest growing family type in the UK.

  • There are now 3.3 million cohabiting (i.e. unmarried) families, up from 1.5 million, 20 years ago.

There are a huge number of couples in cohabiting relationships who are financially disadvantaged because they are not in a marriage. We tend to find that a large proportion of people who choose not to marry and simply live together think that they are in a ‘common-law marriage’. There is no such thing as a common law marriage. The law does not provide the same rights for cohabiting couples and this can have a detrimental impact in the event that the relationship breaks down.

Whilst there may be fewer divorces, those who are divorcing are doing so later in life. As a result, they tend to have accumulated more wealth and assets. This often leads to there being more financial issues which need to be addressed when it comes to agreeing how matrimonial finances should be divided on divorce.

Please contact, Lucinda Holliday on 01494 478 603 or at for help and advice about the things we can do to protect your financial position today, whether you are starting, in or ending a cohabiting relationship or a marriage.