Divorces (Includes annulments. Data for 1961 to 1970 are GB only)
In 2004, the number of divorces granted in the UK increased by 0.2 per cent to 167,116, from 166,737 in 2003. This is the highest number of divorces since 1996, and the fourth successive annual increase. This is 7.2 per cent lower than the highest number of divorces which peaked in 1993 (180,018).
In 1961, there were 27,224 divorces in Great Britain, which by 1969 had more than doubled to 55,556. The number of divorces doubled again by 1972, to 124,556 in Great Britain and 124,991 in the United Kingdom. This latter increase was partly due to the Divorce Reform Act 1969 in England and Wales, which came into effect in 1971.
In England and Wales, the number of divorces fell slightly between 2003 and 2004, from 153,490 to 153,399. In 2004 69 per cent of divorces were to couples where both parties were in their first marriage. The corresponding proportion in 1984 was 78 per cent. This downward trend largely reflects the fall in the number of first marriages.
Over the last 10 years the average age at divorce in England and Wales has risen from 39.3 to 42.7 years for men, and from 36.7 to 40.2 years for women, partly reflecting the rise in age at marriage.
In 2004, 69 per cent of divorces were granted to the wife in England and Wales. The most frequent fact on which divorce was granted to a woman was the unreasonable behaviour of her husband, while for a man it was separation for two years with consent.
Sources: Office for National Statistics; General Register Office for Scotland; Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.
Notes: The average (mean) ages presented have not been standardised for age and therefore do not take account of the changing age structure of the population.
The Divorce Reform Act 1969 in England and Wales came into effect in 1971. This Act introduced a single ground for divorce – irretrievable breakdown of marriage – which could be established by proving one or more of certain facts: adultery; desertion; unreasonable behaviour; separation of two years with mutual consent and separation of five years at the sole wish of the petitioner.