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Hastings tops list of Sussex divorce hotspots as new data shows dramatic drop in applications

The latest release from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows divorces plummeted in 2022, following the introduction of ‘no fault divorce’ in April that year. The data, which covers January – December 2022, shows that divorces dropped by 30% compared with the previous year – the lowest number since 1971.

In conjunction with these statistics, the latest figures from the 2021 Census have unveiled the regional divorce landscape. Hastings has the highest divorce rate in Sussex and in the South East, at 12.1%, and the second highest in the UK after Norwich (12.8%).

This is followed by Eastbourne (11.7%), Worthing (11.1%) and Arun (10.6%). Brighton and Hove, Adur and Crawley sit in joint fifth place for divorce rates in Sussex with 10.2%. Lewes is further down the table with 9.6%, closely followed by Chichester at 9.5%, Mid Sussex at 8.8% and Horsham at 8.7%.

Leading family lawyers are speculating that plummeting divorce rates could be reflective of changing attitudes to marriage, with many couples simply choosing to cohabit instead of tying the knot.

Karen Jeary, one of our family partner and solicitor said: “A drop this significant is hugely surprising and one we haven’t seen for many years.

“Whilst ‘no fault divorce’ legislation has simplified the process for couples, the ONS data suggests that fewer people may be choosing to get married in favour of other living arrangements. Coupled with the aftermath of the pandemic and cost of living crisis, marriage and divorce may be simply unaffordable for some people, which is reflected in the decrease in divorces.”

The statistics also show that 29% of divorces in 2022 were granted under joint application, which was introduced as part of the ‘no fault divorce’ legislation.

However, our family lawyers warn that whilst ‘no fault divorce’ has made the process better for the parties and less blame-orientated, DIY divorce applications should come with health warnings for couples.

Finally introduced in April 2022, ‘no-fault divorce’ represented a huge modernisation of the divorce system in England and Wales, bringing legislation in line with many other countries around the world. Under the new legislation, separating couples no longer have to set out reasons for the divorce, removing the need to apportion blame. Now, when making an application for divorce, couples can cite an ‘irretrievable breakdown’.

Karen said: “It’s definitely now easier to separate and a huge amount of acrimony has been removed from the process. However, there are still warnings that couples should be aware of, particularly when parties are representing themselves and where there are complex financials.

“It’s great couples can now apply jointly as sometimes there’s a natural, mutual point in time where couples feel a marriage isn’t working. However, this does offer an opportunity for one party to be more dominant and attempt to manipulate the other, particularly if they are financially weaker. Anyone applying jointly for a divorce should take extra care to make sure all finances are disclosed right from the outset and independent legal advice is taken.”

While getting a divorce may be easier now than ever before, there are still complications in the process, particularly where money is concerned. Pension pots, investments and other assets must all be taken into account to ensure that any outcome is as fair as possible.

One option separating couples can pursue is a financial order. These court-issued documents dictate how sums of money should be distributed, after a divorce has been filed.

“Money is still one of the most contentious areas of any divorce, and that’s never likely to change,” said Karen.

“Even if a couple has simply fallen out of love, each party will still be wanting to get the best financial deal going forward. Particularly if there are children involved, or any complicated maintenance needs, it’s essential everything is disclosed, calculated correctly and shared fairly.

“A financial order can be extremely helpful, but these are complicated documents and certainly require the help of a legal professional. It may be an additional cost, but the risks of getting it wrong can be severe. Likewise, getting a financial order in place after a divorce has been granted can be much trickier; it’s best to think about it from the start.

“’No-fault divorce’ means people can now start the process on a much more amicable footing. They can agree it’s broken down and then apply for a divorce. People are obviously still behaving unreasonably but there’s no need to use that as the main factor for the separation. Things are calmer from the beginning and that makes it much easier for lawyers to reach a settlement that works for everyone.”