The number of divorces fell during the pandemic as couples spent lockdown focused on homeschooling and other Covid concerns.
During 2020 there were 103,592 divorces granted in England and Wales, a 5% fall from 108,421 in 2019.
The vast majority (99%) were of opposite-sex couples, with divorces falling from 107,599 in 2019 to 102,438.
But there was a 40% rise in divorces among same-sex couples during the pandemic, increasing from 822 to 1,154.
The figures may have been impacted by lockdowns, with some courts temporarily suspending operations for periods of time in 2020.
However, Ros Bever, national head of Family Law at Irwin Mitchell, said: “It’s likely couples were preoccupied in getting through the period with the multitude of issues caused by the pandemic.
“It’s undeniable that there were delays in the court system, but this won’t necessarily have affected the number of issued petitions since most are via an online portal.
“The court delays did persuade lawyers to think more creatively about finding a route to a final resolution, and there was an increase in the use of alternative methods of dispute resolution.
“Hopefully that will mean in the future there will be a wider range of options available and that, in some instances, couples will be able to separate and move on more amicably and swiftly.”
On April 6 of this year the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 will become law.
This law change is designed to allow married couples to issue divorce proceedings without assigning blame, allowing for potentially quicker and easier “no-fault divorces”.
During 2020, “unreasonable behavior” was the most common reason for wives petitioning for divorce among opposite-sex couples. This accounted for 48% of petitions.
A two-year separation was the most likely reason for husbands asking for a divorce (35%), followed closely by unreasonable behavior (34%).
Among same-sex couples, unreasonable behavior was most likely to cause a divorce in both female (55%) and male couples (57%).
The average length of opposite-sex marriages ending in divorce was 11.9 years, a drop from 12.4 years in 2019.
Among same-sex couples the average duration of a marriage ending in divorce was 4.7 years for female couples and 5.4 years for male couples.
However, that doesn’t reflect how long the couples had been together, because same-sex marriages have only been possible since 2014.
Divorce figures held by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) go back as far as 1858, when there were just 24 divorces.
At that time, men were allowed to file for divorce on the grounds of adultery, while women had to prove additional faults such as cruelty or desertion.
An amendment in 1923 made the process easier for women, but adultery still had to be proven – and the financial cost of divorce was high, making it a preserve of the rich.
But in 1969 the Divorce Reform Act allowed divorce on the basis of separation if a marriage had irretrievably broken down, without having to prove adultery or cruelty.
ONS figures show that divorces increased by 12% that year, rising from 45,794 in 1968 to 51,310. Within three years of the Act, the number of divorces had more than doubled, rising to 119,025 by 1972.
The highest number of divorces in a single year was in 1993, the year after Prince Charles and Princess Diana announced their separation – although the Royal couple did not officially divorce until 1996.