The number of divorces granted in England and Wales fell during the year the coronavirus pandemic began, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
There were 103,592 divorces granted in 2020, down by 4.5 per cent compared to the year before.
The ONS said that family court activities were temporarily suspended during 2020, which may have impacted the number and timeliness of divorces in 2020.
However, it is “difficult to know the extent of the impact”, the ONS added.
There were fewer opposite-sex divorces during 2020, with 102,438 granted compared to 107,599 (4.8 per cent fewer) in the year before.
Divorces among same-sex couples increased by 40.4 per cent to 1,154 divorces in 2020, with female same-sex divorces accounting for the majority (71.3 per cent) of these.
Among wives petitioning for divorce in heterosexual couples, the most common reason cited for splitting up was “unreasonable behaviour”, which accounted for 47.4 per cent of petitions.
For husbands, the most common reason for divorces was a two-year separation, which accounted for 34.7 per cent of divorces, followed by unreasonable behaviour (33.8 per cent).
The majority of same-sex couples also cited unreasonable behaviour as the reason for going their separate ways. Figures were similar among both female and male couples, with unreasonable behaviour accounting for 55.2 per cent of female divorces and 57 per cent of male divorces.
The average duration of marriage at the time of divorce for opposite-sex couples in 2020 was 11.9 years, down slightly from 12.4 years in 2019.
Divorce among same-sex couples has only been possible since 2015, after same-sex marriages were legalised in March 2014.
The average duration of marriage at the time for divorce among female couples was 4.7 years and 5.4 years for male couples.
Legal experts have warned that the figures “don’t tell the whole story” of the “seismic” impact of the pandemic and are predicting a record number of divorces in 2021.
Caroline Burstein, a solicitor at Kent and London law firm Thackray Williams, told the PA news agency: “It was only after the first lockdown that people started to take their first steps towards divorce.
“So, with divorces typically taking a minimum of six months to finalise – more where the finances have to be resolved – the real impact of lockdown life won’t be seen until the release of next year’s statistics.”
Joanne Wescott, a family partner at Osbornes Law, added: “The seismic impact of the pandemic on marriages will only be revealed next year where we could see record numbers of divorces.”