A backlog in cases has combined with people waiting for a change in the law to contribute to a recent sharp fall in divorce rates, lawyers suggest.

Figures published by the Office of National Statistics at the end of November show that 90,871 opposite-sex couples divorced last year, a decrease of 10.6% compared to 2017 and the lowest number since 1971.

Commenting on the statistics, the ONS said Ministry of Justice figures highlight an “administrative reason behind the scale of this decrease”.

It emerged earlier this year that couples faced a record 59-week wait to get divorced as a result of a backlog in regional divorce centres.

In addition, the government announced in May that couples would no longer have to prove fault to get divorced. However, the relevant legislation is currently stalled because of the upcoming general election.

Solicitor Zahra Pabani, a family law partner at national firm Irwin Mitchell, told the Law Society Gazette that the drop in divorce numbers reflects wider issues currently facing family law.

She said: “Unhappy couples are biding their time for the divorce rate to be so low. Once no-fault divorce comes in, divorce rates will skyrocket just as they did in the 1970s when new legislation was introduced.

“The reality is that the courts have suffered through numerous funding cuts, and court employees are increasingly overworked and understaffed. Delays are therefore inevitable and until this remedied, will likely skew future statistics.’