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Adultery Rates Decline

grounds for divorce

Adultery rates drop 50% in the last decade – why?


As the law currently stands, if a couple want to divorce in England and Wales they need to file a divorce petition relying on one of five grounds. These are:


  1. Adultery
  2. Unreasonable Behaviour
  3. 2 years Separation by Consent
  4. 5 years Separation
  5. Desertion


One particularly interesting trend that we as solicitors have been following is that the number of couples divorcing on the grounds of adultery has been falling steadily for a number of years, and within the last decade by around half!


According to the Office for National Statistics, in 1998 there were 36,310 divorces in England and Wales filed on the basis of adultery. This later dropped down to 20,765 in 2008, and again dropped to 9,205 divorces in 2018.


So is it that couples are less likely to commit adultery today than they were in 1998, or is there more to read from these statistics?


We know that many couples facing the prospect of separation and divorce are not interested in playing the blame game and simply want to keep things amicable. Whether that is for their own mental health or to protect the interests of children, divorce for them simply isn’t about blaming their partner, whether adultery has been committed or not. Many couples choose to wait two years where they can divorce based on consent rather than issue petitions citing the other’s adultery or behaviour as a reason why their marriage has broken down.


It may also be the case that couples going through divorce are being advised that there is an ‘easy way’ and a ‘hard way’, if they don’t want to wait two years. We know that citing adultery is certainly the hard way, as to do so can increase costs and delay due to the additional paperwork required to be filed with the court. For example, in an adultery divorce petition, the party alleging that adultery has taken place will need to obtain signed confirmation from their spouse that they did in fact commit adultery which is, more often than not, very difficult to obtain. Secondly, adultery petitions may also include the name of the person the spouse has actually committed adultery with, and in those cases the papers will need to be served on them as well as the spouse as they will be joined as a third party.


The reality is, if couples don’t want to wait to divorce based on two years by consent, a petition based on unreasonable behaviour is by far the more simple solution. Perhaps this is the reason that the number of adultery petitions has been decreasing over the last 20 years – not because people are less likely to commit adultery, but because people are more likely to realise that the effort is simply not worth it.


Of course, it all remains to be seen what the statistics show in ten years’ time when no-fault divorce is likely in place. Will it be the case that the only number available to us is the number of couples divorcing? We at Maguire Family Law think so.


For specialist advice on any family law related issue contact Maguire Family Law by email: or telephone:

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