Western Mail, 1st September 2011

AROUND two thirds of divorces in Wales are being put on hold due to the tough financial climate, according to a survey.

A leading accountancy firm said that couples were delaying their split because it was difficult to selling assets in the current economic climate.

Family lawyers said their experience bore this out with many separating couples being forced to live together in the matrimonial home.

The statistics from accountancy and business advice firm Grant Thornton showed that couples in Wales were also more likely to reach a financial settlement with their partner instead of going through the courts, 73% to 63% in the rest of the UK.

Geoff Mesher, head of forensic and investigation services at Grant Thornton chartered accountants in Wales, said: “Whilst the economy has officially been out of recession for over a year, there are still clear indicators that financial concerns are one of the driving factors in both the timing of divorces and the settlements that have been awarded. With cuts in public spending and the economy continuing to falter, it would be unsurprising to see a continuation of this trend as asset values and income levels remain unpredictable.”

A Cardiff-based family law practice said while a sluggish housing market may be forcing separating couples to stay together in the matrimonial home, their client numbers suggested the number of divorce proceedings had actually increased.

David James, a partner with Cardiff-based Wendy Hopkins Family Law Practice, said: “If anything it seems like our new client numbers seem to reflect an increase.

“Then again we are a city centre practice in the capital city of Wales, it may be outside a different scenario.”

The number of new clients at the practice had increased by 20% until the end of the financial year in April 2011, he said.

However current economic constraints including strict mortgage lending criteria could persuade separated couples to postpone a divorce, he said.

“Some couples looking to separate may be forced to stay together in the matrimonial home owing to the lack of movement in the housing market.”

Mr James added: “There is a general view that there is a strong link between the property market and divorce rates.

“The typical assets that need to be divided during divorce will, in a difficult economic climate, be less valuable such as a lower level of equity within the matrimonial home.

“It is also apparent that prior to any economic downturn, certain spouses of wealthy individuals may look to separate and pursue divorce proceedings so that they can maximise the amount that they receive whilst assets are at their highest.”

The Grant Thornton report found less evidence of concealing assets in Wales, as opposed to a growing trend elsewhere.

The latest national figures from the Office for National Statistics show the divorce rate in 2009 at its lowest level since 1977, with 10.5 people getting divorced per 1,000 of those married.

The divorce rate has been falling year on year since it reached a high in 2003.

The survey also uncovered a shift in the reasons for divorce.

For the past seven years of the survey, extra-marital affairs have been the top reason cited for couples divorcing, although this year it has fallen to its lowest level of 25%, and has been overtaken by people who cited that they had simply grown apart or fallen out of love, at 27%.

Mr Mesher said: “One potential influence could be the rise in the number of celebrities putting up with alleged affairs in their marriage or relationship, with Abbey Clancy staying with Peter Crouch, and Cheryl Cole looking all set to go back to Ashley.

“Whatever the cause, it is interesting to note that more relationships than ever, affected by infidelity, could be surviving.”