Divorce: Will 2021 See a Rise?

Last year saw many of us spending more time with our partners in close quarters than we could ever have expected. And, as another national lockdown has been imposed for the start of the year, this is set to continue.

For some of us, this has led to stronger marriages. But for others, it created rifts in relationships that couldn’t be overcome, resulting in a potential rise in the number of divorces set to take place in 2021.

According to the Office for National Statistics’ latest figures, 108,421 divorces were granted in England and Wales in 2019 – an 18.8% rise from the 91,299 granted in 2018.

Despite the rise in tensions between many spouses, the number of divorces granted in 2020 will likely have dropped as many family courts shut.

This year, as vaccines are introduced and we slowly start to return to a more normal world, divorce courts will begin to deal with the backlog. With Citizens Advice announcing they’d seen more searches for divorce on their website in 2020 than in 2019, it is likely the UK will see a rise in the number of marriages ending in 2021.

But the courts reopening isn’t the only reason we’ll see more divorces in the coming year.

Grounds for divorce

Currently, to get a divorce you have to state one of five reasons. These are:

  • Adultery
  • Desertion
  • Separation for two years and both spouses agree to divorce
  • Separation for five years when one partner does not agree to divorce
  • Unreasonable behaviour – including abuse, addiction and financial problems

But by next year, England and Wales can expect to see no-fault divorce become law. It is hoped that this will result in less conflict when ending a marriage, as there will be no need to blame one party.

No-fault divorce will also remove the ability for one spouse to contest the divorce. This will make it a lot simpler to end a marriage.

Pandemic relationship problems

Divorce is often the result of stressful events or periods in a couple’s life. And for many, stress levels are at an all-time high.

A study into UK households and mental health during the pandemic found that people aged 18-34, women and highly educated people were more likely to suffer from mental health problems – but that all other demographic groups suffered too.

Some issues that have been more pronounced in the last year include:

  • Money worries

A number of people have found themselves worse off financially due to the outbreak. As businesses have had to close during lockdowns, a lot of people have had to survive on lower salaries while on furlough. A lot of other people have fared even worse. The Office for National Statistics’ most recent figures point out that 819,000 lost their jobs in 2020.

With these financial pressures can come relationship friction. As money worries grow, couples could struggle to get along. In fact, certain studies have examined the link between financial issues and divorce. One study’s findings suggest that “financial disagreements are stronger predictors of divorce relative to other common marital disagreements”.

  • Illness

During a pandemic, there is a much greater risk of illness than in normal periods. And when one partner suffers from one, there is the chance this will result in marital problems. After all, they usually can’t contribute to household management and could end up not working – something that can have a significant effect on a relationship.

A US study found that when a wife suffers from a serious illness, divorce was 6% more likely. There were several reasons for this but it suggests that, with more than three million people having tested positive for Covid-19 in the UK, the pandemic may have an unexpected effect on relationships.

  • Traumatic events

Suffering a traumatic event can bring couples closer together or push them apart. And in 2020, many of us saw our fair share of these incidents. From the death of a loved one to the barrage of bad news on a daily basis, some people went through a lot.

But it’s not just the directly affected who endured this trauma. A new study has found that many NHS ICU staff were left suffering from anxiety, depression and even PTSD after treating patients in the first wave of the pandemic. To move past these traumas, some couples may find that they need to separate – and then stay apart.

  • Distribution of work

Having to take care of the home, as well as do our paid jobs, can be frustrating. If the balance isn’t shared between partners, resentment can grow. And in many cases, there was an unequal distribution of work within the home during the pandemic.

According to the ONS, women did 64% more unpaid housework and 99% more unpaid childcare than men between March to April and September to October 2020 – a significant difference.

  • Reduced social interaction

In 2020, many of our preferred ways of socialising were prohibited. For much of the year in many regions, we weren’t allowed to meet with friends. We were often restricted to spending time at home or, when we were permitted to go out, remaining with just our own households.

This lack of ability to talk to friends about relationship concerns may have contributed to marital dissatisfaction. When spouses spend more time together than ever before, with no external release, their flaws can become magnified. And this can make that dissatisfaction worse.

Future effects

The Covid-19 pandemic is likely to have a long-lasting effect – on individuals, businesses and countries as a whole.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak recently told MPs that the UK economy is likely “to get worse before it gets better”. This suggests that long-term economic effects will be felt. More people may lose their jobs and suffer further problems as a result.

One of these could be the knock-on effect on their relationships.

If your marriage has been affected by the strain of the pandemic and you need legal guidance, get in touch. First4Lawyers and our expert divorce solicitors can help make this hugely difficult time as stress-free as possible.


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