Younger couples who come from broken homes have led a backlash against divorce, a report claimed yesterday.
Lawyers said declining divorce rates over the past 20 years are the result of the bitter experiences of children whose parents parted when divorce was at its peak in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Now married and possibly with children of their own, they are desperate not to repeat their parents’ mistakes.
Official figures show divorce rates in England and Wales have dropped by more than a third in 20 years, family law firm Hall Brown said in its report.
Divorce is now at levels last seen in the mid-1970s when liberalising reforms which encouraged tens of thousands of couples to split up were beginning to take effect.
The firm said it is dealing with increasing numbers of couples whose marriages are in trouble but who still want to avoid divorce if they can. Many cite their parents splitting up as the reason why their priority is to preserve their own marriage.
Hall Brown partner James Brown said: ‘The increase in the numbers cohabiting has affected the number of marriages and divorces but doesn’t explain why people who do marry actually stay together.
‘Many who come to see us because their marriage is in trouble make clear they don’t really want to divorce. Some underline a desire to explore every possible option to save their relationship because they remember only too well how much distress was caused by their parents’ marriages ending.’
He added: ‘Another common factor among those forced to confront their difficulties is the eagerness to avoid the kind of long drawn-out, bitter and expensive divorce which they seem to have read about in media with increasing frequency.’
Mr Brown said the rise in popularity of cohabitation – more than three million couples are now live-in partners – means couples who marry after living together may be more prepared to cope with troubled times.
‘It is almost a generational impact and a process which has, to a degree, arguably been assisted by cohabitation,’ he said. ‘In a lot of cases which we have become involved in, living together without marrying doesn’t necessarily mean not wanting to marry at all but a sort of marital acid test.
‘A number of cohabitees who then progress to marriage are rather more pragmatic about tackling the sort of issues which can arise afterwards.