New research from the Marriage Foundation think tank has found that the number of married couples in the UK considering divorce has shrunk below pre-covid levels.
The report, which surveyed 3,005 parents, dismissed forecasts of a prospective divorce boom as “both premature and highly questionable”.
“First, actual UK divorce data for 2020 is unlikely to appear much before October 2021. Secondly, the number of divorces has been affected by lockdown closures and associated delays,” it said.
On average married mothers and fathers were less likely to be considering divorce in spite of an uptick in unhappiness between ‘Normal’ times (2017-2019) and June and September 2020.
Among married fathers those considering divorce were down from 2.5% (between 2017 and 2019) to 1% in September 2020. For married mothers, the rate fell from 5.6% to 0.7%.
There was a corresponding fall among cohabiting parents, though cohabiting mothers were 124% more unhappy over the time period.
The report noted that: “government-mandated confinement of couples to their homes from the middle of March onwards has undoubtedly added an additional constraint to couple relationships.”
But for some couples, the additional restraint would “reinforce” the relationships of couples with high levels of dedication.
“It is therefore reasonable,” the report surmises, “to expect some relationships to have thrived in lockdown and others to have suffered – above and beyond what might otherwise have been the case without a prolonged period of lockdown.”
“Given that parents generally want to be with their children, it is not surprising that having to be with them for longer has reinforced the positive experience for many,” it concluded.
Sir Paul Coleridge, the founder of the Marriage Foundation, hailed the news as “very encouraging for those who are married”.
“It shows that the predicted COVID divorce boom is still not even on the horizon let alone just around the corner,” he said.
The “divorce boom” has been the subject of frequent speculation since the summer of last year.
The Citizens Advice charity found that divorce guidance searches on the first weekend of September were up by 25% on 2019.
Since the first lockdown eased in summer, searches on its website focused on benefits and redundancy before turning towards divorce, wills and noisy neighbours.
Similarly, law firm Slater and Gordon had found that the pandemic had “exacerbated” marital problems. It noted an increase in conveyancing instructions, which signalled “an increase in couples separating and wanting to sell their properties”.