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Divorces rates on the rise


The latest news from the Office of National Statistics brings grim news for married couples – divorce rates between opposite sex couples are the highest they have been since 2009.

Just under 107,000 of them went their separate ways in 2016 – the biggest year-on-year rise since 1985. 

Harbinder Gosal, a senior Associate in our family team, examines the news and whether a pre-nuptial agreement could smooth the path to a more amicable separation.

A spike in the number of people choosing to end their marriages always raises the question why? The most common reason in this latest set of stats was "unreasonable behaviour" with 51 per cent of women and 36 per cent of men citing it in their divorce petitions. 

Unreasonable behaviour covers a multitude of reasons and it’s hard to establish an exact reason for the rising divorce rate without asking all 106,959 appellants.

But there’s a suggestion from the relationship charity Relate that it could be down to rising levels of household debt putting pressure on couples.

Money worries are, unsurprisingly, one of the main pressures on a relationship. Add in the usual issues in family life and financial concerns can be the tipping point for a marriage.

Although it’s not the most romantic declaration of love, making a pre-nuptial agreement can be a sensible way to avoid conflict further down the line or even avoid divorce all together.

When a couple decides on a pre-nup, they have to disclose their financial positions to each other fully and have a discussion about what might happen if they separate. Being honest and open about finances from the outset can make it easier to discuss the thorny issue of money. 

Although pre-nups are not legally binding, courts are now increasingly willing to take them into consideration following a ruling by the Supreme Court in the case of Radmacher v Granatino.

In this case, the pre-nup had been drawn up in Germany to protect the immense wealth of a paper company heiress. Agreements there are binding but, as the couple divorced in England, her former husband attempted to claim a larger slice of her fortune, claiming the pre-nup had no legal standing.  

But the Supreme Court disagreed, saying there would have to be compelling reasons to depart from the agreement which they had made. 

A pre-nup is not just for the wealthy though. With people marrying later, and maybe already owning their own home when they tie the knot, and an increasing number of second or subsequent marriages, individuals may bring their own assets to a marriage that they want protecting in the advent of a divorce.

Although it may be tempting to try and cut costs and do it yourself, it’s important to note that pre-nups are unlikely to carry weight in divorce proceedings unless they are correctly administered.

Both parties should take legal advice and voluntarily choose to enter into the agreement as well as fully disclosing their financial positions to be transparent from the outset. The agreement should also be updated regularly should your situation change, such as having children.

If you have any concerns, our family team are on hand to offer guidance. Contact Harbinder on 01902 392420 or

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