Fewer marriages ending in divorce

A woman sitting alone Forty-two percent of marriages end in divorce, statistics suggest

Latest figures show that there were 117,558 divorces in England and Wales in 2011, down by 1.7% since 2010, the Office for National Statistics said.

Based on marriage, divorce and death statistics for 2010, about 42% of marriages are expected to end in divorce - a drop from 45% in 2005.

The number of divorces in 2011 was highest among people aged 40 to 44.

In 2011, 10.8 people divorced per thousand married people, compared with 12.9 in 2001.

The findings showed that there continues to a "general decline" in divorces since 2003 when there were 153,065.

Graph showing the number of marriages and divorces in England and Wales since 1931

The fall in divorces is consistent with a decline in the number of marriages to 2009 - a factor which may be due to the increasing number of couples choosing to co-habit rather than marry, the ONS said.

Impact of recession

Across the UK, the number of divorces decreased by 1.9% in 2011, to 129,763 compared with 132,338 in 2010.

The number of divorces in Scotland fell by 2.8%, from 10,149 in 2010 to 9,862 last year, while the number of divorces in Northern Ireland also decreased.

Divorce lawyer Deborah Jeff: "Recession is one of the many reasons for dwindling divorce figures."

Divorce rates decreased between 2004 and 2011 - except in 2010 when it increased, the ONS said.

This could have been because of the 2008-09 recession, it said, although it could not explain fully why it had an impact.

It said there were two competing theories about the effect of an economic downturn on divorces.

One theory suggested that increased financial strain, changes in employment and related lifestyle changes could contribute to divorces, while the other theory suggested that partnerships would be less likely to dissolve because "of an increase in family solidarity during difficult times and the need to postpone marital break-ups until the economy, and the value of their home, improves".

ONS gave the example of the 1990-92 recession when there was an increased risk of divorce, but with a delayed impact, so that divorce rates increased more markedly in 1993 than during the recession.

When it comes to children, almost half (49%) of couples divorcing in 2011 had at least one child aged under 16.

There were 100,760 children aged under 16 whose parents divorced in 2011, a decrease of 31% from 2001.

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