There were more than 100,000 divorces among heterosexual couples in England and Wales last year, new figures reveal.
Office for National Statistics data published on Tuesday showed there were 107,599 opposite-sex divorces in 2019, an increase of 18.4% from 90,871 in 2018.
It is the highest number of divorces since 2014, when 111,169 were granted.
There were also 822 same-sex divorces, nearly twice the number (428) in 2018.
The ONS said the scale of the increase in divorces was partly due to divorce centres processing a backlog of casework in 2018, which was likely to have translated into a higher number of completed divorces last year.
It added the number of heterosexual divorces in England and Wales saw its largest annual percentage increase since 1972, following the introduction of the The Divorce Reform Act 1969, which made it easier for couples to divorce upon separation.
The number of same-sex divorces has increased each year, reflecting the increasing size of the same-sex married population since the introduction of marriages of same-sex couples in March 2014, the ONS said.
The latest figures also showed:
- The divorce rate among opposite-sex couples last year increased to 8.9 divorces per 1,000 married men and women aged 16 years and over, from 7.5 in 2018
- Of the 822 same-sex divorces last year, 72% of these were between female couples, a decrease from 75% in 2018
- Unreasonable behaviour was the most common reason for couples divorcing last year, with 49% of wives and 35% of husbands in heterosexual marriages petitioning for divorce on these grounds
- It was also the most common reason for same-sex couples divorcing, accounting for 63% of divorces among women and 70% among men
- The median duration of marriage at the time of divorce for heterosexual couples fell slightly from 12.5 years in 2018 to 12.3 years last year
There has been an overall downward trend in divorce numbers since the most recent peak of 153,065 in 2003, the ONS said, with opposite-sex divorces remaining 30% lower than in that year.
This was broadly consistent with an overall decline in the number of marriages between 2003 and 2009, it added.
It said: “Changes in attitudes to cohabitation as an alternative to marriage or prior to marriage, particularly at younger ages, are likely to have been a factor affecting the general decrease in divorce rates since 2003.”
The latest figures come as family lawyers have predicted a “post-lockdown divorce boom” amid warnings the coronavirus pandemic is putting a strain on relationships.
Advice charity Citizens Advice said divorce guidance searches had risen since April after a drop in visits when lockdown started.
It said views on its divorce webpage on the first September weekend were up 25% compared with the same date in 2019.
Tom MacInnes, chief analyst for Citizens Advice, said: “We know that this pandemic has put an enormous strain on people financially but our data shows that strain is also being felt in people’s relationships.”