Women in same-sex marriages more than twice as likely to divorce as male counterparts, says ONS data

Women in same-sex marriages are more than twice as likely to divorce as their male counterparts, Government data suggests.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published its annual research on Tuesday analysing divorces in England and Wales in 2019. 

It found there were 822 divorces among same-sex couples in 2019 – nearly twice the number in 2018 (428 divorces).

Furthermore, of the 822 divorces, nearly three-quarters (72 per cent) were between female couples.

The number of divorces among same-sex couples has increased each year since 2015 – the first year that same-sex divorces were possible. 

However in 2019, there were 589 same-sex divorces between women, compared to 233 between men. This marked a stark rise from 2018, when there were 321 same-sex divorces between women, and 107 between men.

Responding to the data, Alison Fernandes, a partner with Hall Brown Family Law, said: “Same-sex divorces involving women tend to happen at a slightly younger age than for gay men or heterosexual men and women.

“When we look at possible reasons why, we must consider that women not only occupy more and more senior positions in the workplace.

“But there has also been a near doubling in the number of UK businesses established by women over the last decade.

“While that can be of tremendous benefit, it becomes as much of a challenge for same-sex couples as their straight counterparts when the wider economy runs into difficulties.”

Ms Fernandes added that the ONS has also remarked on how the economy grew at the slowest rate since the last recession.

“Same-sex marriage wasn’t possible at the time of the last global downturn, so this is the first time that these couples may have been affected by at least the threat of losing their jobs, seeing income reduced or businesses closes,” she said.

“Together with the natural decline in romantic feelings over time which some couples experience, those external pressures will no doubt have pushed same-sex marriages to the point of collapse”.

The ONS also found that there were 107,599 divorces of opposite-sex couples in 2019, a rise of 18.4 per cent from 90,871 in 2018. 

It said the scale of this increase partly reflected divorce centres processing a backlog of casework in 2018, which is likely to have translated into a higher number of completed divorces in 2019.

Kanak Ghosh of the Vital Statistics Outputs Branch of the ONS, said: “Same-sex couples have been able to marry in England and Wales from March 2014. 

“Since then, we have seen the number of divorces of same-sex couples increase each year from very small numbers in 2015 when the first divorces took place, to more than 800 in 2019, reflecting the increasing size of the same-sex married population in England and Wales.

“While we see that 56 per cent of same-sex marriages were among females, nearly three-quarters of same-sex divorces in 2019 were to female couples.” 

Number of same-sex divorces by sex

Researchers also found the number of divorces in England and Wales saw its largest annual percentage increase in nearly 50 years.

Divorces of heterosexual couples rose by 18.4 per cent from 90,871 in 2018 to 107,599 last year – the highest number since 2014, when 111,169 divorces were granted.

This also marked the largest annual percentage increase in the number of divorces since 1972, following the introduction of the The Divorce Reform Act 1969 which made it easier for couples to divorce upon separation, the ONS said.

Unreasonable behaviour, which includes reasons such as adultery, was the most common reason for heterosexual couples divorcing in 2019 with 49 per cent of wives and 35 per cent of husbands petitioning on these grounds. 

It was also the most common reason for same-sex couples divorcing, accounting for 63 per cent of divorces among women and 70 per cent among men.

In spite of these figures, Harry Benson, research director of the Marriage Foundation said: “Today’s marriages are doing well.

“For example, the actual divorce rate for couples who married in 2014 are 53 per cent lower during their first five years of marriage than couples who married in the late 1980s or early 1990s when divorce rates peaked. Only those who married prior to 1971 have done better. Divorce rates for couples in their second five years of marriage are down 24 per cent from the peak.

“As social pressure to marry has all but disappeared, those who do marry today are serious about it. The success of marriage compared to informal cohabitation shows the crucial role of commitment in stability. If you want reliable love, you need to commit.”

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