The latest Family Court quarterly statistics were published this week by the Ministry of Justice, which made for interesting, if perhaps unsurprising, reading.
Despite many commentators speculating at the start of the pandemic and ensuing lockdown that the divorce rate would rocket, between April and June 2020 there was actually a decrease, with 18% less divorce petitions being filed and 5% less decree absolutes being granted compared with the same period last year. This also bucks the trends observed in both China and the US where a surges in divorce rates were reported anecdotally.
There was a general decrease of 13% in new cases being started in the Family courts compared with the same period last year, which is unsurprising in view of the restrictions the pandemic has placed on the court’s ability to operate at full capacity. While courts have been reopening steadily in recent months, the vast majority of cases have been taking place remotely, although this is not without its own problems.
While we have seen a rise in the number of enquiries from clients who have been tested in their marriages during lockdown and are contemplating divorce, and want to understand if it is the right option for them, we have equally experienced a heightened degree of nervousness among some of them as to whether now is the right time. A common theme in the increased caution about ‘pushing the button’ on divorce has been due to the financial uncertainty that the pandemic continues to create. For many, with continued job uncertainty, the impact of the economy on investment portfolios etc, divorcing is too great a risk to take in the present climate. For others, they see the buoyancy of the housing market and Stamp Duty holiday as a window of opportunity to resolve matters and cut financial ties with their spouse by Spring 2021.
How people’s attitudes might change now we are on the verge of lockdown 2.0 is yet to be seen. It may be that the prospect of spending another six months with a spouse who they have long been mentally separated from will be too much, no matter the financial uncertainty.