Lower divorce rates need to be taken in context

Professor Alan Susskind

Alan Susskind, Partner in our Family department, says the announcement from the Registrar General that, in 2011, divorce was at a thirty year low has to be taken in context.

In 2006 the Family Law (Scotland) Act reduced the period of separation and made it easier and quicker to obtain a divorce.  As a direct result, many people took advantage of the change in legislation and the divorce rate spiked. Since then, naturally enough, the divorce rates have subsided and are only slightly less than the rates before the change in the law.

The interesting question behind all of this is whether or not a reduction in divorce rates means that marriage as an institution is gaining in strength? My own view is that with the pressures of every day life increasing it seems unlikely that the fall is as a result of an outbreak of matrimonial bliss.

It has been pointed out elsewhere that January is the time when most people separate, doing their best to stay together over the festive period.  The evidence for this is anecdotal but in any event in the last few years, really since the onset of the recession, this has not been the case and there is no doubt that the difficult economic climate in impacting on the decision as to whether or not to separate.

There are so many different factors to consider before making that fateful decision and finances play a major part.  Worries about the ability to cope with the cost of living in two different places and the knowledge that the family home may not sell for a year could understandably have the effect of making a decision against the split or at least putting it off until a better time.

I think that uncertainty about the economic future will mean that far fewer people decide to separate over the next few months.

The difficulty with this is that the underlying problems that suggested separation was a real option do not disappear. They remain and when people are living in close proximity they may well get worse. The increasing tension between parents can affect the welfare of the children and the tension in the family home can increase unbearably. 

The worry about this is that while the parents may have tried to separate in a reasonable matter and discussed matters relating to the welfare of the children and finances in a civilised way, because of the pressure matters may come to a head in an uncontrollable way and that would not be in anyone’s interests. Family law advisers work with their clients to help them avoid this outcome.

Professor Alan Susskind

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