For better, for worse?

THE tide has finally turned on divorce rates. They have dropped to a five-year low, with eight per cent less marriages ending in divorce last year than the year before.

THE tide has finally turned on divorce rates. They have dropped to a five-year low, with eight per cent less marriages ending in divorce last year than the year before. KATE BOXELL asks why - and what those in trouble can do to try to save theirs.

A DROP in divorce rates has been welcomed in Suffolk today, although church officials have warned there is “good and bad” news concealed within the figures.

Divorces have dropped by eight per cent, to a five-year low. The number of couples getting divorced fell to 141,750 in 2005 - down by 11,649 from the year.

Reverend Graham Hedger, chaplain to the bishop of Ipswich and St Edmundsbury, believes too many people are still choosing to part company rather than work at a marriage, and said the figures could be directly attributed to a drop in the number of people tying the knot in the first place.

He said: “This is good news and bad news. The good news is that there is a fall in the divorce rate which means more people recognise marriage is worth working at, and divorce is not the only answer.

“The bad news is there are still a lot of people scarred by damaged relationships. We need to look at the ratio between divorce and marriage which is still very, very high and the number of people getting married is also falling every year.

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“At one stage people didn't automatically see divorce as the answer and many people have worked through sticky patches and are still together. We would encourage people having marital problems to seek help, go to Relate and find someone who can work with you through the problems, because marriages are worth working at.”

Christine Northam, a senior counsellor at Relate, said the fall showed that people were now more determined to work at their marriages. She said: “I do think it is significant, it shows an 8pc decrease and that is quite a lot.

“It indicates to me that people are working more at their marriages. They are better informed about the effects of divorce and separation, the effect on themselves, their children and their financial position.

“People are more likely to take a step back and think 'we can save this'.”

Others believe the fall can simply be attributed to the decline in the numbers of people getting married.

Penny Mansfield, director of the marriage and relationship research organisation One Plus One said: “The people who are married are probably more stable than they have been in the past and are becoming more alike, slightly more homogenous. They tend to marry later, tend to be from higher socio-economic groups and are more likely to have their children in marriage. But you have to keep remembering that there is a huge increase in the number of relationships outside marriage which are effectively becoming invisible.

“The people with kids who are breaking up are less likely to marry in the first place.”

Ms Mansfield said the fewer people married, the fewer people were likely to divorce.

She added: “The picture we are getting is that relationships and relationships with children are becoming more fragile. Having said that, most children are still growing up to the age of 16 with both biological parents.”

She said the number of UK relationships which break up really “stuck out” compared with other European countries.

The Family Mediator Association (FMA) was also cautious about interpreting the figures in too positive a light.

A spokeswoman said the FMA was dealing with an ever-increasing number of broken relationships.

“The reduction in divorce statistics probably reflects the fact that couples are choosing to cohabit rather than marry,” she said.

“Demand for FMA services appears to be increasing nationally year on year and what we are seeing in practice is a rise in family breakdown overall with a greater number of relationship breakdowns between cohabiting couples.

“A very large percentage of these relationship breakdowns involve children who can be seriously affected by the conflict of separation and divorce.”

Weblinks:

www.relate.org.uk

www.thefma.co.uk

www.oneplusone.org.uk

www.stedmundsbury.anglican.org

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What do you think is behind the drop in divorce rates? Write to Your Letters, The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP4 1AN or email eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

Bill Maycock and his wife Rita celebrated 50 happy years of marriage at their recent golden wedding. Mr Maycock of Sandown Road, Ipswich attributes much of their success to National Service, and their passion to work at their marriage.

He said: “I think the rate has gone down because not so many people are getting married so there are not so many divorces. When we got married it wasn't the done thing to get divorced. We got called up for National Service and spent two years stuck in the middle of nowhere.

“I signed up for three years and that is three years of your life taken away. You grew up quickly, learnt how to look after yourself and how to behave properly and that followed right through life and that could have a lot to do with why my marriage has worked.

“If you look at anyone who was in the army then and check records you will find they are still married and they didn't give up. We had a lot of problems and didn't have tuppence to ourselves but you work together and that is how you carry on.”

Mr and Mrs Maycock were married at St Mary and St Botolphs Church in Whitton on July 21, 1956 and have since had three children, two of which are divorced.

The 72-year-old said there is a lot of pressure on couples now. He added: “You have got to be a bit dependable and rational about things, and mustn't go over the top if something goes wrong.

“You have to think things through. It's your nature I suppose - if you are the down-to-earth, easy going type, you don't go jumping off at the deep end. You have to cool down, count to ten and think about things before you make stupid moves.”

Mr Maycock said as many more people choose to live together without marriage, this might skew the divorce figures.

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