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Read more articles in: Blog, Family, Family Law, Mander Hadley

Court delays behind lower-than-expected divorce rate, experts suggest

Fewer people got divorced during the coronavirus pandemic than in the year before it began, a major study has revealed.

But experts suggest that delays in processing divorce applications may have impacted the timeliness of completed divorces in 2020.

The report, published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), shows that there were 103,592 divorces granted in England and Wales in 2020.

This represents a fall of 4.5 per cent compared with 2019.

The figures come after research predicted that the coronavirus pandemic would lead to an increase in divorces as couples buckle under the strain of enforced lockdowns.

The Legal Services Board (LSB), for instance, found that divorce enquiries increased by more than 90 per cent during the first national lockdown, while Citizens Advice reported a 25 per cent increase in visits to its divorce webpage.

But the ONS warns that the 2020 divorce figures may not be entirely accurate.

The report states that family court activities were significantly affected by the coronavirus pandemic during 2020, leading to the temporary suspension of operations by some courts for long periods of time – impacting the “number and timeliness of completed divorces”.

While the ONS says it is difficult to calculate the extent of the impact, recent research suggests that family court cases rose to record levels in 2021.

It was revealed in October last year that there were an estimated 66,357 new family law cases in April to June 2021 – up 14 per cent compared to the same period in 2020.

This includes 26,301 new divorce petitions, up seven per cent compared to last year. The average time from petition to decree nisi also increased from 24 to 25 weeks, while time from petition to decree absolute was 50 weeks, up four weeks compared with the same period.

Commenting on the research, Law Society of England and Wales president, I. Stephanie Boyce, said delays in court proceedings continue to be felt by families.

For help and advice with related matters, please get in touch with our family law team today.

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