Our 10th annual matrimonial survey of UK family lawyers looks at current trends in family law – and reveals the who, why and how much of UK divorce.
Since the inception of Grant Thornton’s matrimonial survey 10 years ago, the landscape of family law has changed considerably, with shifting family dynamics and landmark judgments making headlines, including in 2013: Prest-v-Petrodel, M-v-M and the removal of legal aid for most family cases. Coupled with a significant downturn in the global economy, all this has meant that the issues facing family lawyers are constantly evolving.
Our latest survey canvassed the opinions of 85 of the UK’s leading family lawyers. Here are some of the key statistics from our 2013 matrimonial survey, which is also available for download.
In response to predictions relating to increases in ‘silver splitters’, we asked lawyers about the age of their clients – 86% said that the most common age of their clients was 40 to 49, with a further 10% saying 30 to 39. More than half (53%) of respondents said that they had seen no change in the age of people getting divorced, although 38% did say that they had seen an increase in the parties’ ages.
The reason for marriage breakdown is a question we have asked since the survey’s inception – our 2009 infographic, for example, shows how the reasons for divorce change with the state of the UK economy.
In 2011 we reported that for the first time growing apart/falling out of love had become the main reason for marriage breakdown, overtaking the extra-marital affair. This continues to be the case this year, with 29% of respondents citing growing apart (the highest ever response for this answer) compared with 24% citing an extra- marital affair, the next most popular answer.
Other reasons, in descending order, included: unreasonable behaviour, mid-life crisis, financial or money worries, emotional/physical abuse, workaholism, stress, family strain, empty nest syndrome and business problems.
As in previous years, the majority of marriages dealt with by lawyers were between 11 and 20 years, with 63% of respondents in the current year saying that this was the case. This survey also showed the highest proportion of long marriages ending in divorce, with 14% of lawyers saying that the majority of divorces were from marriages of over 20 years, compared with just four per cent in 2012.
It seems that there has been a turnaround in the value of family assets distributed in divorce cases dealt with by our respondents, which may be related to economic recovery or to the increase in the number of litigants in person dealing with the lower-value cases.
For the first time since 2011 no respondents said that the average value of assets was less than £250,000 (compared with 14% in 2012). And 15% of cases had assets of more than £4 million, with four per cent of those being more than £10 million (compared with six per cent and two per cent respectively in 2012).
The full report also covers some of the main issues in UK family law, including the following three areas.
1. The economy
Half (49%) of respondents said they had seen a decrease in the number of divorces due to the recession while 79% of respondents considered that recession has led people to delay commencing divorce proceedings.
“In tough economic times, when people’s budgets are tight, it is perhaps not surprising to see a fall in the divorce rate,” says Nick Andrews, Partner, Forensic and Investigation Services. “Now that there is continuing positive economic news, it will be interesting to see if the divorce rate starts to edge up again.”
2. Concealment of assets and non-disclosure
In several legal cases (Prest-v-Petrodel and M-v-M) adverse inferences were drawn against the husband as a result of his lack of financial disclosure. We’ve also written previously on Scot and Michelle Young case and the potential prison risk of concealing assets in divorce.
“The key issue in detecting concealment is that you don’t know what you are looking for,” says Chris Clements, Partner, Forensic and Investigation Services. “In a post-Prest world, concealment, particularly in corporates, will require detailed analysis of the financial records in order to confirm the true position.”
With changing family dynamics arising from the increase in cohabitation, there is a desire for at least a clarification in the law. In this year’s survey we asked why there is a lack of legislative protection for cohabiting couples. The most popular answer by some margin was political pressure to protect the idea of marriage and family values. The Prime Minister’s idea of ‘Big Society’ which includes the belief that marriage is the bedrock of strong communities perhaps explains some of the reluctance of the current government to support a change in the law.
Download the report
For the full survey and insight, our 2013 report is available to download: Matrimonial survey – A changing decade (PDF). Or visit our Matrimonial services page for more contacts and information.