Old-fashioned claims of desertion have dramatically risen in line with the increasing numbers of people who try to handle their own divorces without lawyers.
Cases in which desertion is cited rose by 34 per cent between 2011 and 2015 as people struggled to pick the right ground to justify the “irretrievable breakdown” of their marriages.
The most recent official figures show that there were only 490 cases of desertion (276 granted to wives and 214 to husbands) in 2011. By 2015, the figures had risen to 717 (426 to wives and 291 to husbands).
The figures also show that although the number of divorces in England and Wales dropped by 14 per cent over the past five years, 34 per cent more spouses argued that they had been abandoned by their partners during the same period.
The rise in “DIY” litigants is seen as a direct result of the withdrawal of legal aid for most divorce related disputes. Figures from the Ministry of Justice last month showed that 36 per cent of divorce-related disputes now involve no lawyer on either side — up by nearly 20 per cent in the past four years.
James Brown, managing partner of a Hall Brown, the Manchester law firm that analysed the Office for National Statistics data, said: “The findings are startling, given that desertion has long been regarded as a little-used reason for divorce.”
Brown pointed out that the increase reversed the continual decline in desertions from 1985, when more than 1,900 spouses successfully argued that they had been abandoned. He added: “I don’t believe that there have necessarily been more spouses suddenly and permanently exiting marriages.”
Family lawyers point out that attempting to prove desertion as the reason for divorce is both complex and highly unusual. “Those are just two reasons as to why neither I nor my colleagues have dealt with a single such case in more than a century of combined legal experience,” Brown said.
However, people conducting their own divorces were “not able fully to differentiate between the various grounds for divorce and opt for desertion because it might seem to fit their circumstances when, in fact, unreasonable behaviour might be more appropriate”.
Opting for the wrong ground can cause needless delay and can end up in divorce papers being returned to the applicants. Lawyers do not recommend using desertion as a ground for divorce as it can be difficult to prove.