The number of divorces recorded in England and Wales jumped by 4.9 percent last year, the first such increase in eight years, according to data from Britain’s Office of National Statistics (ONS).

Specifically, the number of broken marriages rose from 113,949 in 2009 to 119,589 in 2010.

The last time the number of divorces climbed was in 2003, when there were 153,065 break-ups, versus 1478,735 in the prior year.

The painful economic climate following the recession may partially explain the rise in broken marriages, ONS noted.

The figures show that divorce rates continued their downward trend during 2008 and 2009 but increased in 2010, ONS stated in the report.

This could be consistent with the theory that recession is associated with an increased risk of divorce, but with a delayed impact, perhaps reflecting a couple's wait for an economic recovery to lift the value of their assets or the time lag between separation and obtaining a decree absolute. A similar trend can be seen during the previous recession in 1990-92, where divorce rates increased more markedly in 1993 than during the recession itself.

ONS further added: “One theory suggests that recession could contribute to a rise in partnership break-ups because of increased financial strain, changes and employment and related lifestyle changes. In addition some individuals may believe they will get a more favorable settlement if their income is currently low. In contrast, an alternative theory suggests that partnerships would be less likely to dissolve in an unfavorable economic climate since couples would be less able to end the partnership for financial reasons – these may include the cost of lawyers, negative equity in housing or not being able to afford to maintain two households following divorce.”

Interestingly, ONS indicated that the highest number of 2010 divorces occurred among men and women in their early 40s.

Overall, the rate of divorce in Britain has been creeping up over the past 40 years. ONS indicated that fully one-third of marriages that commenced in 1995 had ruptured by what would have become their 15th anniversary. For marriages that started in 1970, the figure was one-fifth.

John Loughton, head of public policy at Relate, the marriage guidance charity, told the Daily Telegraph newspaper: “It's no surprise that the divorce rate is rising given the pressures that couples and families are under. In fact we are seeing more people than ever coming to Relate because of money worries.”

Nigel Shepherd, partner at the law firm Mills & Reeve, told the Telegraph: “Although this increase is surprising after a continued decrease in divorce over the previous six years, it shows that, as the economic outlook started to look better following the 2008 financial crisis; people grew in confidence and concerns over the financial consequences of a divorce briefly lifted. Of course, the latest economic gloom won’t have hit the statistics yet and experience as a practitioner suggests that the clear overall trend is still one of a decrease in the number of divorces.”

Other notable points from the 2010 data:

*One-half of divorced couples had at least one child under the age of 16 living with the family.

*The number of divorces in Scotland (not included in the aforementioned England-Wales data) actually fell by 3.2 percent from 10,371 to 10,034.

*The average marriage in England and Wales now lasts about 11.4 years.

Of course, the marriage-divorce data excluded couples living together – reportedly, there are now some 2.2-million couples in the UK.