Northern Ireland saw a dramatic rise in divorces last year – 2,040 were granted compared to 1,507 in 2020, according to official figures.

Despite last year’s increase, the overall trend has been downward since a peak of 2,913 in 2007, according to figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.

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Just before the pandemic in 2019, 2,357 divorces were granted – 30% less than in 2007.

It has been suggested by some that divorces increased at the height of the pandemic when couples were forced into extended periods of lockdown together.

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Stevie Maginn, communications and engagement manager at Relate NI, suggests there are a number of factors behind the downward trend in divorces in Northern Ireland.

These include couples who choose not to marry, instead focusing their efforts on the quality and well-being of the relationship.

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“The broader point at play here is that Northern Ireland maintains an archaic, contrived divorce system that fuels unnecessary animosity and recrimination and discourages amicable relationships and positive co-parenting relationships. “Does nothing for where children are involved, which we know is essential. For children’s life chances,” he said.

“Rate NI is lobbying for ‘No Fault Divorce’ legislation, to be introduced by England and Wales in April 2022.”

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Ciara Barlow, senior associate of family law at Wilson Nesbitt Solicitors, added that the “blame game” approach in Northern Ireland has made it more difficult for couples here to end their relationship. Compared to the rest of the UK, where ‘no fault divorce’ helps create more amicable separations.

He added that factors such as the coronavirus pandemic and the mini-housing boom after the lockdown contributed to the increase in inquiries during 2021.

As the housing market experienced a post-lockdown money boom, couples felt confident they could sell their property and then go their separate ways, he said.

“This is in contrast to the 2007-8 housing bubble position where parties were living together primarily because of the negative equity position on their property,” he added.

He added, “Parties who could not work to resolve their issues may have seen an opportunity to initiate legal divorce proceedings and settle financial matters while the property market was booming. “

“While the latest trend may indicate an increase in previous data, it is entirely possible that it reflects cases that have backed up as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.”

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