UK divorce: the state of the nation

Real life family lawyers are nothing like that depicted in the TV drama The Split. Far from profiting from the mess in areas of family law, we use all our expertise and experience to help clients navigate it and we are campaigning hard for law reform to support the needs of modern families.

As legal advisors we wanted to gain a deeper understanding of why divorce occurs, and so we conducted a survey involving participants throughout the UK. The findings, presented here, make for interesting and often surprising reading.

The UK divorce rate is rising

Looking at current data as it stands, there are some 24.1 million married Brits, and research suggests that they are likely to stay married for an average of 12 years. The divorce rate is currently 42%, with half of these occurring in the first 10 years of marriage. In 2016 there were 106,959 divorces, a 5.8% increase from the previous year, and overall the divorce rate is rising for the first time this decade, particularly in the over 50s age group.

Survey findings

Overall, the survey brought to our attention that just over 9% of Brits are currently seriously considering divorcing their partners, a statistic which equates to more than 2 million people in the UK. Our survey also unearthed the most likely time to consider divorce, as indicated by 19.1% of respondents, is between 11 and 19 years of marriage. In fact, 67.6% of people married for more than 10 years have considered a divorce at some point.

We highlight below the reasons cited for separation, views across demographics and where couples are most likely to consider a split, and why.

Reasons for divorce: what's love got to do with it?

We analysed the top reasons for divorce in the UK, as well as looking more closely into the locations where people are more likely to be considering a divorce, and why. The chart opposite shows how reasons were ranked.

Of the 24.1 million married people in the UK, it appears that over half of married women (59%) have considered a divorce at some point, compared to 36% of married men who appear to be more settled in their marriages.

Looking at both opposite sex and same sex marriages, it was found that arguments have a major effect on the longevity of a relationship. In fact, this is the primary reason couples say they have considered divorce.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, poor communication, changes in the relationship/expectations, money problems and sexual dissatisfaction are all noted as major factors in break ups.

*Respondents were given multiple options, and were asked to select ‘All that apply’.

Demographics - who said what?

Comparing the sexes, the study found that 59% of married woman and 38% of married men have considered divorce at some point. Additionally, more females are currently seriously considering a divorce than males (11.1% versus 7.5%).

Women were more likely to see jealously, a lack of trust or money problems as major issues. Men, on the other hand were more likely to cite either sexual dissatisfaction or the marriage not being as expected, as key concerns.

From a millennial’s perspective, they are more likely to consider divorce for reasons that were related to crime, differences in libido, trust, mental abuse and single instances of infidelity.

Older individuals tend to consider divorce due to parenting issues, long-term illness, physical abuse and multiple offences of infidelity.

*Respondents were given multiple options, and were asked to select ‘All that apply’.

The regional picture

Looking at research across the UK, Southampton is the location in which married couples are most likely to have considered divorce with 82% having considered separation at some point. The main reasons stated included; a lack of communication, loss of attraction, marriages not being as expected and sexual dissatisfaction.

Looking at the cities listed in the chart opposite and the main reasons for considering a split, Belfast was the top city that cited arguments (89% of respondents) as the main reason for considering separation.

Leeds and Edinburgh held the most responses for issues related to sex, including infidelity and differences in libido.

London was the city which had the greatest proportion of respondents (3.2%) saying that they have contemplated divorce for reasons surrounding sexual orientation or gender change.

Crime related issues were noted in Nottingham, and those considering separation due to physical abuse peaked in Glasgow.


Divorce or separation can be a tough but vital decision for many couples, so it is beneficial to speak to a trusted legal advisor if you are considering it to ensure you know your rights and how best to proceed.

Suzanne Todd, leads the UK divorce and family team