Guest Post: Marriage, the State of the Economy and the Divorce Time Bomb

Guest Post:  Marriage, the State of the Economy and the Divorce Time Bomb

Rob Killeen, family barrister and finance broker at Capital Fortune examines declining marriage, the incidence of UK divorce and the state of the economy and considers whether we can import any lessons from abroad to avoid a growing time bomb.

This week saw research published by the Eurostat statistical office confirming Britain has the highest divorce rate of all member countries within the European Union. The incidence of UK divorce now stands at 2.8 per 1,000 of the population compared to Luxemburg at 0.6%. In simple terms, this equates to nearly 5 times more couples getting divorced in the UK than a country situated less than 300 miles away.

The scale of the ‘epidemic’ has not gone unnoticed. Sir Paul Coleridge, a High Court judge, not previously known for outspoken views, agreed last week with judicial watchdogs, to keep a ‘lower profile’ following his public references to marital breakdown being one of the “most destructive scourges of our time.”

There remains an obvious lag in the reporting of official numbers, but latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show a 4.9% increase between 2009 and 2010, despite worrying wider reports that the economic climate is causing many couples to postpone break-up plans.

Women in their late twenties and men in their early thirties were found to be amongst the most likely candidates to divorce with the gender gap narrowing for both men and women in the 40-44 age bracket. The average length of a UK marriage is now 11.5 years and whilst we may become de-sensitised to facts and figures, it is important to note that 50% of divorcing couples have a least a child of the family.

The cost is not only emotional and personal. The Relationships Foundation has estimated that the financial impact of marital breakdown costs the British taxpayer some £42 billion per year.

A matrimonial survey published by Grant Thornton found that the highest number of divorce proceedings were brought between 11-20 years of marriage. The report suggests evidence of a divorce time bomb, given 82% of survey respondents, indicated separation had been delayed, due to the lack of value and liquidity of some assets and the state of the UK economy. In addition, it found that within a third of all divorces, the average value of the party’s assets, available for distribution, was between £500k and £1m. When the stakes are so high, it is understandable why many litigants rush to the arms of lawyers.

The national statistics are disappointing particularly as 80% of couples now ‘try before they buy’ and cohabit together for a considerable period, before tying the knot. The trend towards cohabitation may account for the decline in marriage numbers. In contrast, only 1% of couples lived together in the 1950’s prior to marriage, when to do so was deemed ‘socially deviant.’ The increased social acceptability of cohabiting raises an interesting paradox as with few people choosing to marry, fewer people should be getting divorced. This may indicate an overall more fundamental and worrying trend given the change in societal values towards marriage and for those that do, a greater propensity to divorce.

A move towards cohabitation has produced its own studies which found that of all couples living together on their 10th anniversary,  only half had married, 40% had split, with one in ten remaining content with the situation.
There still remains enormous support for the institution of marriage despite the long term decline in the numbers choosing the altar. Recent Government proposals and David Cameron’s personal support to extend marriage to same sex partners, whilst likely to be divisive, may at least turn the numeric tables.

The implications of both marriage and divorce can be significant and it is clear that as well as the underlying human and emotional commitment, there are the current and future financial ties between the parties. London Mortgage Brokers Capital Fortune have recently reported a fourfold increase in their court report service, used by family solicitors seeking to resolve disputes over the independent mortgage borrowing capacity of the husband or wife. The demand for these reports may indicate that the financial implications of separation on an individual’s own mortgage borrowing, in the current economic climate, is less than clear.

The future of UK divorce trends does not make easy reading whether through official statistics or the glossy pages of Hello! magazine.  The incidence of celebrity divorce is in fact worse with high profile marriages, twice as likely to end in tears than for us mere mortals.  Perhaps the time has now come to learn some lessons from our Luxemburg brethren given their close proximity. With EU nations receiving some 75% of Luxemburg’s exports perhaps a little of their understanding on marriage may not go a miss.

4 thoughts on “Guest Post: Marriage, the State of the Economy and the Divorce Time Bomb

  1. Of course Luxembourg historically has higher levels of employment, pay, civic engagement, red tape and alcohol consumption than the UK and it doesn’t suffer from collective narcissism brought about by Maggie Thatcher’s government. -;)

  2. “The incidence of UK divorce now stands at 2.8 per 1,000 of the population compared to Luxemburg at 0.6%. In simple terms, this equates to nearly 5 times more couples getting divorced in the UK than a country situated less than 300 miles away.”

    That’s a mathematical nonsense. If the figures for both countries are per 1,000 of the population, then the Luxemburg (sic) figure would come out at 6 per 1,000 of the population, or about 2.1 times the UK numbers. If the Luxembourg numbers are as a percentage of marriages whilst the UK ones are per head of population (albeit not stated if its adult population or total), then undoubtedly the UK figures are higher, but the comparison is then on a wholly different basis. Indeed the the item doesn’t even quote the time interval. I’m assuming it’s annual, but why should we have to guess? It’s also not stated on what basis Luxembourg was chosen. I somehow doubt it was on the basis of being most similar on socio-economic criteria. More likely it was chosen to represent the most extreme contrast, but then why should we have to guess again? (On socio-economic and sheer size, Luxembourg is not the obvious example to choose). Also, what on earth is the relevance of 75% of the destination of Luxembourg’s exports to the point being made?

    In addition, why is this described as a “time bomb”, as there’s no obvious time element to this. It’s not like the effect of changing age demographics on state pension or health costs. This seems more like a “steady state” issue, not one that will necessarily get worse with time.

    In all, statistics are scattered like confetti in this item in a wholly imprecise and ambiguous manner. No doubt the UK divorce stats are high, but this item tells us nothing and uses statistics in an arbitrary manner.

    In all, what was the point?

  3. The incompetent stats Mr Killeen quotes come from the Daily Mail, which Mr Killeen has apparently used as a source uncritically. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-52829/Britain-highest-divorce-rate-EU.html Going to this source makes clear that the % following the 0.6 is extraneous addition by Mr Killeen, the Daily Mail wrote 0.6 (per thousand). But unsurprisingly the numbers are wrong. Unfortunately the author has written an article on an entirely false premise, resulting from his numerical incompetence. The actual divorce rate in Luxembourg is only a little lower than the UK. This source shows it as 2.3 per thousand. Source: http://old.eurohealth.ie/overview/luxembourg.html
    This source shows it as 2.0 per thousand, and UK about 2.4 per thousand, and also
    http://www.oecd.org/els/familiesandchildren/40321815.pdf

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