12/12/2011 09:09 GMT | Updated 07/02/2012 05:12 GMT

Recession Reality Bites For Divorcing British Couples

Britain's financial climate is every bit as chilly as the inclement wintry weather at the moment.

Politicians, bankers and business titans are struggling hard to maintain confidence in the economy as evidence mounts of a possible return to recession.

The effects of a downturn are as calamitous for couples as they are for commerce, even though the exact impact sometimes takes a little time to become apparent.

Figures just released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) illustrate how the first wave of recession which followed the banking crisis of 2008 has translated into marital disharmony across the country.

They show that the number of divorces in England and Wales during 2010 rose to 119,589, 4.9% higher than they had been the previous year. Not only is this the highest number of divorces since 2003 but it is also indicative of the tensions created by job losses, falling income, rising debt and insecurity about the future.

Whenever such factors occur, they do not generally result in an instant break-up. Many couples will try to resolve their differences and difficulties before admitting they must go their separate ways.

In the aftermath of the 2008 recession, many husbands and wives found themselves unable to afford to divorce and so stayed living under the same roof, apart in all but name, law and finance.

There have also been those individuals who might have tried to ride out the economic and emotional storm in the hope that their partner's finances might rebound as business and employment prospects improve, only to recognise that things are not going to get better for some time to come.

However, although an important element in the ultimate break-up, I do not believe that recession represents the sole cause for divorce. Rather, in most cases, the pressures it creates exacerbate whatever underlying tensions there may have been in a marriage.

Beneath the headline of the overall rise, the ONS data throws up other interesting nuggets. They reveal how one-third of marriages in England and Wales now do not last beyond the 15th year. Furthermore, the figures indicate that divorce in 2010 was most common amongst those men and women aged between 40 and 44 years of age.

If rising divorce and its impact on spouses and children seems only to add to the gloom on these short winter days, you may be able to take heart from one nugget hidden in the ONS report: romance may not entirely be dead.

Almost a fifth of men and women who were divorced in 2010 had been divorced before, which shows that they were prepared to try marriage again after divorce, which can be a very unpleasant process.

This is a pattern most notably evidenced by some of those who had been through costly, painful and very high-profile divorces, including the former Beatle, Sir Paul McCartney.

If they feel able to press on with their lives, others may perhaps draw comfort. That they can do so may also, though, demonstrate how much less of a stigma divorce is in modern Britain than it was only a few decades ago.