Wealth, Divorce and Delays 

Published on 19 October, 2017 | Sam Hall

Sam Hall - Hall Brown Family Law

In 1964, the then Leader of the Opposition, Harold Wilson (later, of course, to serve two terms as British Prime Minister), is said to have coined a very famous phrase about a week being “a long time in politics”.

The point that he was trying to make, as his party’s – and, indeed, his own – fortunes would demonstrate, was that the political arena was one of constant change.

Over the intervening half-century, that idea of almost permanent flux is applicable to many different environments, the UK’s households being just one.

Before Mr Wilson was to occupy 10 Downing Street for a second time, legislation (the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1973) would be passed which would irrevocably alter the dynamic of homes across the country.

It fuelled a massive increase in the number of people divorcing, a trend which peaked in 2003, when just over 165,000 couples ended their marriages.

Arguably, it was also one of the principal contributory factors in the rise of cohabitation with individuals dissuaded from marrying by their parents’ – or, in fact, their own – divorces.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), since the mid-1990s, the number of couples opting to live together while unmarried has more than doubled https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/families/bulletins/familiesandhouseholds/2016.

Even though patterns are somehow easier to track over time, though, we don’t necessarily need to wait for many years to elapse before noticing change.

Back in June of this year, my colleague at Hall Brown Family Law, Andrew Newbury, wrote on this ‘blog about an “historic” drop in divorce rates. He was commenting both here http://www.hallbrown.co.uk/homestead-history-makers-uk-relationships-crossroads/ and in the national newspapers about a 9.1 per cent fall in divorce in 2015.

That reduction meant that fewer couples were divorcing than at any time since before current divorce law was introduced.

Fast forward only a few months and we see 2016’s divorce figures climbing once again – by nearly six per cent – for the first time in seven years.

Just as Andrew had remarked on the absence of a particular reason for 2015’s sharp fall in divorce numbers, there is no sudden spark resulting in a rash of marriages collapsing the following year.

Instead, as I’ve been telling the Daily Mail (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4992486/Divorce-rates-rose-time-SEVEN-YEARS-2016.html), what we’re seeing is a combination of factors.

The continued rebound in the economy after the global recession of almost a decade ago has, for many, led to healthier professional prospects, bigger bank balances and a surge in house prices.

Whilst some couples are directly worth far more because of their homes accruing in value, they have benefitted indirectly from the same development, inheriting from relatives whose estates have also swollen as property prices have risen.

What that all means is that those husbands and wives whose marriages don’t last the distance have more to divide and that can, sadly, mean more complex and long drawn-out arguments about how best to split their assets.

Add to that the complication of Brexit which has impacted on the value of family businesses both by causing the cancellation of vital contracts or seeing profit margins plummet because of exchange rate turbulence.

More than differences of political or even cultural opinion, disputing the degree to which the referendum outcome has strained finances can require lengthy specialist input to resolve.

One other thing is clear too.

Look beneath the most immediate figures and one other pattern emerges in relation to the number of middle-aged women choosing to divorce.

Just as many of their more dependent predecessors were positively terrified at the prospect of living out the rest of their years alone, we see numerous women for whom greater longevity and financial stability holds no fears, only opportunities.

These changes have not been wrought either overnight or in over the sort of span of time which Mr Wilson was observing such parliamentary shifts.

The literal and metaphorical fortunes of females in England and Wales have been changing for some years and their progress has become a constant likely to resist the possibility of being reversed.

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