New Proposals on Marriage, Divorce Rates and Divorce Mortgages – Are There Lessons from Europe?

Rob Killeen, family barrister and financial broker at Capital Fortune considers the Government’s proposed extension of marriage, yesterday’s figures on divorce, the impact for parties and children and whether there are any lessons we can learn from Europe.

The Eurostat statistical office confirmed yesterday that Britain has the highest incidence of divorce throughout the EU. Divorce rates now stand at 2.8 per 1,000 of the population, an unwanted accolade only shared with Finland. The figures show 5 times more couples getting divorced in the UK than in countries such as Luxemburg, only a few hundred miles away.

The most up-to-date numbers from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show a 4.9% increase between 2009 and 2010 and this is despite wider evidence that the economic climate is having the impact of delaying separation plans.  A UK divorce time bomb may be awaiting and this is supported by the recent matrimonial research carried out by Grant Thornton which reported 82% of survey respondents, admitted to delaying proceedings, given the state of the economy and the lack of current value in marital assets.

The majority of men and women divorcing fall within the 40-44 age bracket however there is a growing trend of women in their late twenties and men in their early thirties petitioning. UK marriages now last on average eleven and a half years and 50% of divorcing couples have a least one child of the family impacted by the separation.

The human cost is not only emotional and personal, it is financial. The burden of divorce, costs the UK taxpayer £42 billion per year according to new research conducted by the Relationships Foundation.

The figures raise an interesting paradox as whilst more people are divorcing far fewer are getting married. Any assessment of the ‘state of the union’ is therefore highly problematic. In the UK, over 80% of couples cohabit and effectively ‘try before they buy.’ Whilst this trend likely contributes to the decline in marital numbers reported by the Registrars, it does not explain why, having lived together, the divorce rate continues to rise.  In the 1950’s less than 1% of couples cohabited and to do so, was socially outlawed and deemed ‘socially deviant.’  The societal switch to cohabitation has come under close scrutiny, with half of those living together after 10 years, getting married, 40% splitting-up and 10% continuing the status-quo.

The issue of marriage is becoming a political hot potato. David Cameron has today given his personal support to extend the marriage institution to same sex partners, which appears divisive across the many sections of his own party. It may however, at least turn the numeric tide of those wishing to tie the knot in the first place.

Marriage clearly brings with it the most profound human, emotional and social commitment, but creates fundamental financial ties between the parties, both current and future. Capital Fortune London mortgage brokers have recently reported an increase in both their borrowing capacity court report service and applications for a divorce mortgage. The impact of divorce on an individual’s mortgage borrowing capacity is stark. A family home, affordable on both incomes often has to be sold, leading to further family upheaval for the parties and children.

The size of the epidemic has not gone unnoticed in judicial circles and specifically within the Family Courts.  Sir Paul Coleridge, a member of the family division was ordered last week to keep a ‘lower profile’ by legal watchdogs at the Office for Judicial Complaints. The ‘censor’ came after his public comments that divorce in Britain was becoming one of the “most destructive scourges of our time.”

The statistics released yesterday by the EU are clearly on the side of the learned judge and whilst we should ourselves refrain from judgement, the time perhaps has come to import Luxemburg’s lessons or at least their understanding of marriage.