Huffpost UK Lifestyle
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Fiona Wood Headshot

Is Divorce 'Too Easy'?

Posted: Updated:
DIVORCE
Alamy

Having dealt with many divorces over the course of my career as a Family lawyer, I do not think that I would be too wide of the mark in suggesting that many people regard divorce as one of the most traumatic experiences of their lives.

Although the end of a marriage may not be characterised by acrimony and long drawn-out disputes about children and finances, it can often be a bitter realisation that a relationship between two individuals who were committed to one another and who tried to overcome their difficulties is finally at an end.

Even those people who might be regarded as capable of making tough decisions in their professional lives find it hard to accept what divorce actually means on a personal level.

For instance, the media tycoon Sir Martin Sorrell recently gave an interview in which he described being divorced from his first wife, Sandra, as the most stressful episode in his life (http://www.managementtoday.co.uk/features/1161352/feature-sir-martin-sorrell-losing-something-gets-me/).

He pointed out that it was more than the extraordinary size of the 2005 settlement which affected him, though one might forgive even a multi-millionaire's eyes watering at paying more than £23 million in cash, plus a large townhouse in London and two parking slots at Harrods (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1127055/City-tycoon-Martin-Sorrell--8216-used-45million-shares-pay-divorce.html) - an arrangement which, at the time, was the biggest of its kind in British history.

It marked, he has said, his failure to "successfully balance career and family" which contributed to the demise of his 32-year marriage.

Yet there are, it would seem, plenty of people who regard at least some of those who divorce as being too willing to exit their marriages when the romantic walk down the aisle leads to a path which is decidedly more rocky.

My colleagues and I at Pannone recently commissioned some research by the polling company ICM. Even though the vast majority (73 per cent) of those questioned considered divorce as a more acceptable part of modern life, more than half (57 per cent, to be precise) felt they were too easy to obtain.

Ours wasn't necessarily a survey of marital diehards. The 2,000 people we spoke to included those who were single, cohabiting, married, divorced and widowed. In other words, the broadest cross-section of opinion that we could find.

The results intrigued us because they contradicted what we were seeing in the divorces we found ourselves dealing with on a daily basis.

We concluded that people's perceptions of divorce had perhaps been influenced by reporting of celebrities, such as comedian Russell Brand and pop star Katy Perry, who separate after very brief marriages (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2080449/Russell-Brand-files-divorce-Katy-Perry-says-cares-her.html).

It is true that official figures show that divorce is once again on the increase. Last December, the Office for National Statistics revealed that the number of divorces in England and Wales in 2010 had risen to 119,589, an increase of 4.9 per cent on the previous year (http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171778_246403.pdf). The data for 2011 is due to be released shortly.

The same body also recently revealed that although the number of marriages in 2010 was 3.7 per cent higher than the previous year (http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/vsob1/marriages-in-england-and-wales--provisional-/2010/marriages-in-england-and-wales--2010.html), there were almost half a million fewer married couples than in 1996. That compared with a near doubling in the number of couples choosing to cohabit over the same period of time (http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/family-demography/families-and-households/2012/cohabitation-rpt.html).

Against such a toll of change in the shape of the modern British family, the reasons for divorce seem relatively unimportant but are still worth consideration.

Two-thirds of our respondents believed that infidelity by either spouse was likely to be the principal cause of divorce. Just over half felt married couples were most likely to break-up because they had begun to lead different lives while one-quarter named problems managing money as the main reason for separation.

Only 18 per cent considered disputes about domestic duties were mainly to blame for divorce.
What we discovered made for particularly interesting reading given that the Law Commission is currently preparing to close a consultation about how married couples divide their assets. The results of that process, which was launched in September, are to be included in a report scheduled for publication in early 2013.

I suspect that even if the changes stemming from the Law Commission's enquiries make the financial and property elements of divorce easier for some, they will not render it a totally pain-free process on an emotional level, regardless of whether married couples have the wealth of Sir Martin Sorrell or rather more modest means.