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Statement on the differences between Office for National Statistics and Ministry of Justice figures on divorces

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Statistical notice: Statement on the differences between Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures on divorces

Issue date: 28 June 2012
Type: Statement


1. National Statistics on divorce in England and Wales are published by both the Office for National Statistics and the Ministry of Justice.

2. The MoJ statistics present the number of divorce petitions lodged at county courts in England and Wales, and the number of decrees absolute granted by the courts. The data are sourced directly from the county court administrative system FamilyMan, which is used by court staff for case management purposes.

3. The ONS statistics record the number of divorces occurring in England and Wales. The ONS data are compiled from information recorded on ‘D105’ forms used by the courts to record decrees absolute, which are supplied to ONS by county courts for compiling the central index of decrees absolute.

Reconciling the two sets of statistics

4. ONS and MoJ are content that separate sets of statistics should be published by each department, because they exist to serve different and distinct purposes. The MoJ publishes statistics on the volume of cases dealt with at all types of court – both civil and criminal – in England and Wales, and its divorce statistics provide users with information on the number of such cases processed by the courts. The ONS statistics provide users with a range of wider demographic data about divorces, such as information on age at time of divorce, number of children and length of marriage, and these complement the range of other demographic statistics produced by the department such as marriages, civil partnerships, births and deaths.

5. The number of divorces indicated by the two sets of statistics are similar but do not match exactly. For example, the total number of divorces indicated by the ONS statistics in 2010 was 119,589, compared to 121,265 in the MoJ figures – a difference of 1.4 per cent.

6. ONS and MoJ have worked closely together over the past couple of years to reconcile the two sets of statistics as far as possible. Both departments have agreed that attempting to achieve yet closer reconciliation is not an immediate priority at the current time. This situation will be regularly reviewed in future.

7. The extensive comparison of the two datasets indicated that there is no singular reason for the difference in the two sets of figures, and that at a court level any differences are small and widely distributed. As the information is derived from a live case management system, there are multiple possible factors such as forms and updates not being sent to ONS, data entry problems and other possible administrative errors that may contribute to the different published figures. It should also be noted that:

  • the ONS statistics include annulments, while the MoJ figures do not

  • the MoJ statistics include dissolutions of civil partnerships, while ONS publishes their statistics on dissolution of civil partnerships separately

Contact details and further information

For queries, comments or further information on the issues set out in this note, please contact:

Justice Statistics Analytical Services Division
Ministry of Justice
7th floor
102 Petty France
London SW1H 9AJ
Tel: +44 (0)20 3334 3737
Vital Statistics Outputs Branch
Health and Life Events Division
Office for National Statistics
Segensworth Road
Hampshire PO15 5RR
Tel: +44 (0)1329 444110

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