Was Valentine's Day a miserable reminder that your relationship is rubbish? For some people, divorce is no longer a viable option because it's too expensive to consider living apart.
Valentine’s Day has been celebrated around the world this week and with it endless stories of love - saccharine sweet, emetic, wretched love.
Valentine’s Day is, of course, a holiday pushed by card companies, lingerie firms and chocolate makers desperate to find a way to sell more products when holidays and romance are in short order.
And romance is in short supply this time of year. After the potentially stressful Christmas holiday period where families spend more time together, divorce inquiries spike in January.
Love ends. For those who can’t gallop off into the sunset of their years hand in hand with a partner, divorce is there to help separate even those bound by marriage. But the cost-of-living crisis has changed how feasible getting divorced is.
While not all divorces have the eye-watering figures of the near €65 billion settlement of Jeff Bezos’ split from his wife MacKenzie, the job of dividing finances can still put a strain on families that may be struggling to pay bills in the current climate.
“We're seeing soaring bills, spiralling energy costs, the cost of fuel, food and fuel having risen. Ultimately, this is a diminishing matrimonial pot to be divided upon divorce,” says Georgina Chase, a family solicitor at Slater & Gordon in the United Kingdom. She advises and guides people through divorce proceedings, and can be involved in helping courts split income and assets to fairly accommodate both sides of a split.
Inflation in Britain peaked at 11.1% in October last year, pushing the average cost of goods and bills for many people out of step with their salaries.
House prices across the country have shot up in the past few decades and are wildly out of step with the average incomes of British people. “One party who may have previously wanted to remain in what's called the matrimonial home for the benefit of the children may find that now because of the mortgage and bills having increased that’s unaffordable as an option upon divorce,” Chase explains.
Moving on, moving out
If you thought it was hard moving house in 2023 already, now imagine having to find a way to split the house you already have and find two with the proceeds.
Chase’s firm has received a similar number of people requesting advice for divorce proceedings through her firm, but more couples than ever are expressing concerns about legal fees, and the affordability of their lives post splitting finances. “We've seen more people reluctant to formally start the process due to the cost-of-living crisis. And indeed, the research undertaken by Slater & Gordon shows that 40% of spouses say that the cost-of-living crisis has put additional pressure on their marriage.”
And the crisis isn’t just heaping extra pressure on couples already set on divorce, the stresses associated with questioning finances could put once-happy pairings on the road for a split. For those couples, the worry that divorce can be a costly affair won’t exactly engender hope in their marital prospects.
“My advice is always not to necessarily put off going through the divorce just because of the cost-of-living crisis,” Chase says. “We’re uncertain as to how long the crisis will last. To put off, being in an unhappy marriage indefinitely is unlikely to be of benefit to anyone, especially children.”
Chase’s advice to any couple currently questioning whether divorce is the right decision should try and find an amicable way through it sooner rather than later. No fault divorces were introduced into the UK last year, giving couples a less combative means without finding a contentious issue on one side that’s caused the rift.
Across the EU, marriage rates have been decreasing since the 60s. In 1964, eight marriages for every 1,000 people across the EU. That figure dropped by over 50% to just 3.2 marriages per 1,000 people in 2020.
Across the same time period, divorce rates have doubled, going from 0.8 divorces per 1,000 people in 1964 to 1.6 in 2020. In this time period EU member states like Italy, Spain, Ireland and Malta all legalised divorce, contributing to the increase.
Data is only available up to 2020, but interestingly the 2020 figures are actually a slight decrease already on the EU high of 1.9 divorces per 1,000 people in 2010. Divorces are most popular in Latvia, Lithuania and Denmark with the individual country rates at 2.7 divorces per 1,000.