Marital infidelity is no longer the top reason for couples divorcing, with “falling out of love” replacing it, according to a survey of divorce lawyers.
The survey found that the most common reason for a marriage to end was couples claiming that they no longer felt in love and had “grown apart”.
The research, compiled by consultancy firm Grant Thornton, which questioned 101 leading divorce lawyers, said that extramarital affairs had been the top reason behind marital breakdown every year since the survey was first conducted in 2003.
Louisa Plumb, from Grant Thornton UK LLP suggested one reason for this may be the example of footballers whose wives stay with them despite the well publicised infidelity of their husbands.
England footballers including Peter Crouch, Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney have featured in the tabloid press for their alleged infidelities yet are reported to be attempting to mend their relationships.
This year, however, infidelity was replaced as the most common cause of divorce by couples stating that they had simply fallen out of love with each other.
The proportion of lawyers citing extramarital affairs as the main factor for their clients' separation – 25 per cent - has now fallen to its lowest level since the annual survey began in 2003.
However, “growing apart” or “falling out of love” has become increasingly common and was the leading reason for marital breakdown, cited by 27 per cent of lawyers in the survey this year.
Other causes of marital breakdown listed in the study included one partner having a “mid-life crisis”, emotional or physical abuse, “unreasonable behaviour” and financial worries.
In spite of growing financial pressures, only five per cent of respondents cited financial/money worries as the most common reason for marriage breakdown, with no change from the level of responses recorded in 2010.
The lawyers surveyed also said they believed that many couples had merely delayed divorce in the recession, hoping for larger settlements once the economy had recovered.
Eighty two per cent of respondents thought that people had delayed divorce proceedings due to the recession, with a majority of respondents (54 per cent) stating that the lack of value and/or liquidity of personal assets was the greatest contributor to this delay.
According to official records, the number of divorces in England and Wales has fallen to its lowest level since 1974, as fewer couples choose to marry.
Christine Northam, a counsellor with Relate, said it was common for couples to say they loved each other but were no longer “in love”.
“What’s normally the case is that their relationship has slid down their list of priorities, replaced by the pressures of work, money worries or raising a family,” she said. “Relationships need attention and time to nurture otherwise couples can easily drift apart.”
In July this year a senior family judge said divorce has become a “form-filling exercise” which is easier than getting a driving licence.
Sir Paul Coleridge criticised the “cultural revolution in sexual morality and sexual behaviour” and warned that a divorce can go through in just six weeks.
And he added that family breakdown now affects everyone in the country – “from the Royal Family downwards”.