Couples must consider wealth protection measures, Irwin Mitchell says of ONS divorce statistics

19/10/2017 News Team

Specialists at Irwin Mitchell Private Wealth have stressed the importance of couples - and especially same sex couples - considering wealth protection measures, such as pre-nuptial agreements, with regard to the latest ONS statistics on the number of divorces in England Wales.

The ONS's statistics found there were 112 divorces of same-sex couples in 2016, a large increase from the 22 divorces in 2015, with 78 percent of these among female couples.

This compares to 106,959 divorces of opposite-sex couples in 2016, an increase of 5.8 percent when compared to 2015.

Associates at Irwin Mitchell Private Wealth, Kathryn Evans and Hannah Saxe, highlighted that it “should not be forgotten that equal marriage was only introduced in March 2014 so we are likely to see an increase in the number of same-sex divorces whilst the number of same-sex marriages also increases”.

Ms Evans and Ms Saxe added: “It is not possible to start the divorce process until you have been married for at least 12 months so the first same-sex divorces will not have started until March 2015. We are therefore bound to see an increase in the number of same-sex divorces in 2016 as a result of those initial cases.”

Furthermore, in relation to opposite-sex couples, Ms Evans and Ms Saxe noted that the majority of divorces in 2016 (61 percent) were started by the wife.

Between 1980 and 2000, this proportion had consistently been at or above 70 percent, “which may demonstrate a greater equality between spouses with wives seen less often as the “wronged” party in relationship breakdown and is possibly representative of societal advances”.

Currently, the estimated amount of all marriages ending in divorce is now 42 percent, around half of which are expected to occur in the first 10 years.

People putting wealth protection measures and pre-nuptial agreements in place are hopefully ensuring that “if their marriage does end in divorce, they have as much certainty as possible about their future financial positions and hostile and potentially expensive disputes about money are avoided”.

The average age at divorce for same-sex couples who divorced in 2016, was 40.4 years for men and 38.2 years for women. Unreasonable behaviour was the most common ground for divorce among same-sex couples, accounting for 96 percent of divorces among men and 93 percent of divorces among women. Unreasonable behaviour within same-sex couples can include having a sexual relationship with someone else.

Fellow associate in Irwin Mitchell Private Wealth’s Leeds family team, Sarah Buxton, said of the most common ground for divorce being unreasonable behaviour that 36 percent of husbands and 51 percent of wives petitioned for divorce on this basis.

“For lawyers who deal with relationship breakdown on a daily basis this is not a surprise. The law in this country requires a spouse to allege fault in order to bring the marriage to an end, unless they are prepared to wait for a 2 year period of separation (as a minimum),” she added.

“For couples who can agree a relatively amicable parting, this introduces an unhelpful hurdle and can create unnecessary difficulties.  They will often come to a fictional compromise with the help of their lawyers to put together a “mild” set of behaviour particulars which they can stomach being included in the divorce petition.  For those couples where emotions are already running high, the temperature is often further raised by one party setting out allegations of bad behaviour in the petition.”

Ms Buxton continued: “When it comes to considering the finances, the way each party has behaved is usually irrelevant as far as the courts are concerned, and only in the most extreme circumstances will it make any difference to the division of assets or payment of maintenance. However the law of divorce remains out of step in effectively encouraging divorcing couples to complain about each other’s behaviour.”

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