We’re officially too poor to divorce – so here’s what to do instead

keys divorce
keys divorce

It used to be that the start of the year would be boom time for lawyers, reaping the spoils of breakdown after January’s ‘Divorce Day’. In 2021, 42 per cent of UK marriages ended in divorce, with over 113,000 divorces taking place in a year (or 13 every hour).

But all that is changing. According to new figures by the Office of National Statistics, divorce rates are at their lowest in 50 years, and experts are blaming the cost of living crisis. According to research by Legal & General, almost a fifth of couples are delaying their divorce simply because of the cost.

Financial pressures have postponed more than 270,000 divorces, leaving British couples in the curious limbo of being “mid-vorced”: not-quite-married, not-quite-divorced.

Solicitor and divorce coach Katie Beer says she’s seen a marked increase in couples separating and then putting off the official bit due to money issues.

“The last time this happened was back in 2008-2009 when the financial markets crashed,” she explains. “Although we’re not quite back to those levels yet, there are definitely couples who cannot afford to divorce.”

And it’s not just legal costs getting in the way – although these are high: it’ll set you back around £2,000 to divorce, and that’s only if both parties are in complete agreement.

“It’s also the fact that mortgage interest rates make it tricky for one party to take on the mortgage in their sole name on a single income,” adds Katie. “Plus, going from a double-income household to a single-income household means less money coming in, while bills are going up so more money is going out.”

‘We were like housemates by the end’

Kelly Edwards, a managing partner at Edwards Family Law, says the cost of living crisis has made many of her clients think twice about getting divorced.

“People with houses or family businesses to value or sell might want to hold off because values are currently lower and, ultimately, there needs to be enough money to go around for both parties.”

It’s a situation that healthcare worker Nic Wheeler, 57, and her ex-partner Robin, 62, a freelance designer, found themselves in when they separated last July.

The couple, who live in a leafy market town in Berkshire, were together for 31 years, with two grown-up children, and say their marriage simply “ran its course”.

“We were more like housemates by the end,” explains Nic. “We went out for dinner one night, had the chat, and that was that. We told the children, who were very supportive, and Robin moved to his sister’s, a 10 minute drive away, where he’s been ever since.”

But when the pair looked at the logistics of divorcing – selling the house or buying out one partner’s share, dividing up three decades’ worth of belongings, not to mention contracting lawyers – they found they weren’t in such a hurry to make things official.

“There was no animosity,” says Robin. “We were still texting and calling regularly, mostly about the kids. We decided to put off the divorce – and, for now, we’re perfectly happy being separated.”

They still pay their earnings into the joint bank account, which takes care of the bills, mortgage payments and costs for the house and kids. For everyday living expenses, holidays and clothes, they make a modest transfer from this account into their individual savings each month.

So far, so practical. This may change, Nic says, if one of them meets someone else – “but hopefully things might have improved financially by then, so it won’t cost quite so much to get divorced.”

‘The haggling over money is draining’

Another couple who spoke to The Telegraph, but wanted to remain anonymous, said the cost of living crisis was a “massive” factor in delaying their divorce – after a 20-year marriage – by two years.

“Ongoing financial agreement is fraught,” explains the wife, 49. “I can’t earn what I was on prior to having children [they have two; aged 14 and 17] whilst also being around for them. He can’t accept that or doesn’t care.

“The ongoing haggling over money is draining and damaging. I just want it sorted.”

Similarly, Carla Crivaro, 43, and her former partner have put off divorce for over a year now: they separated in September 2022, after 11 years of marriage, but continue to live in the same house in Lancashire with their children, aged six and 10.

Both she and her ex-husband have new partners of over a year and sleep in different rooms but continue to share their income, savings and investments.

Carla, a sex and relationships coach, insists money isn’t the sole reason they haven’t divorced yet; rather, it’s for the sake of their children.

“We have seen how difficult it is for other children who have experienced partners divorcing and living between houses, and we’d like to avoid this upheaval and trauma if possible,” she explains. “We have a good relationship, we get on and communicate well, so we don’t see a reason to make things more complicated.”

‘The cost fear is a red herring’

Indeed, when a couple don’t have obvious grounds for divorce, being separated for two years will suffice: this is the reason given for 27 per cent of UK divorces, showing just how common unorthodox living situations are behind closed doors.

That said, some experts do not condone “mid-vorcing”, especially as a choice. “The cost fear is a bit of a red herring, especially when weighed up against the emotional trauma of staying together,” says Kelly Edwards. “We would generally advise against it, and certainly for those in their 40s to 60s who need to be thinking seriously about pension provision.”

Judged from an emotional perspective, however, others are more positive.

Farhana Hussain, a “divorce doula” who mentors individuals through break-ups, explains: “In cases where couples maintain an amicable relationship, this arrangement of separation without immediate divorce can be effective. It allows for a period of financial strengthening and stability for the family.”