Divorcing couples are far less likely than they were 10 years ago to cite adultery as the reason for the breakdown of their marriage, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The figures reveal that adultery was cited in 9,205 divorces in 2018, compared with 20,765 in 2008. In 1998 there were 36,310 cases.
The decline was welcomed by Sir Paul Coleridge, who was formerly a High Court judge in the Family Division and is now chairman of the Marriage Foundation.
He told the Times newspaper: “I think people are more grown up than they used to be and realise that a single act of adultery does not tell you very much about the cause of the break-up of a marriage.
“It may be a symptom of the problem, but my experience is that it isn’t the cause. The cause is the broken relationship, and the adultery arises out of it.”
‘Unreasonable behaviour’ is the most common reason cited in divorce cases for the breakdown of the marriage. Typical examples include showing little or even no interest in the children and “lack of interest in one another”.
The changing attitude to divorce is reflected in the government’s new bill designed to reform divorce law and “remove the need for separating couples to blame one another for the breakdown of their marriage”.
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill is designed to reduce the impact that allegations of blame can have on a couple and their children.
Currently, one spouse has to make accusations about the other’s conduct, such as ‘unreasonable behaviour’ or adultery, or otherwise face a long wait before a divorce can be granted – regardless of whether a couple have made a mutual decision to separate.
The new law will remove this ‘blame game’ by allowing one spouse - or the couple jointly - to make a statement of irretrievable breakdown. It will also stop one partner contesting a divorce if the other wants one – which in some cases has allowed domestic abusers to exercise further coercive control over their victim.
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