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Covid couldn’t taint Northern Irish love

The Latin saying ‘love conquers all’ has proved to be true as despite a pandemic, NISRA marriage and divorce figures suggest Northern Ireland’s love cannot be tainted.

The graph demonstrates the NI marriage and divorce rates from 2015-2021.

Five years before the pandemic, in 2015 the marriage figure was above average for the 21st century with 15 per cent of religious marriages being held outside of religious buildings.

The Northern Ireland Wedding Celebrant can officiate fully legal wedding ceremonies anywhere in Northern Ireland. At such ceremonies there is no need for a register to attend or for the venue to be licensed. Steve Ames from the organisation expresses that one reason behind this interest in having a religious ceremony in a non-religious space is, “that many religious couples are prohibited from marrying in a church by increasingly conservative clergy”. 

Moreover, the divorce rate in 2015 was also above average for the century with non-cohabitation accounting for 70 per cent of all divorces.

The NI Wedding Celebrant adds that ‘convenience’ plays a role in couples showing an interest in religious weddings in non-religious venues.  In 2017, 18.4 per cent of couples chose this as a wedding option despite the marriage rate decreasing by 0.65 per cent compared to 2015. Steve Ames said, “Many couples appreciate being able to have both the ceremony and the reception in a single venue”.

As for the divorce rate in 2017, there was a decline with the most frequent reason remaining as non-cohabitation (71.5 per cent).

Relate NI is a charity that has a mission to make expert support and information for healthy relationships available for everyone by offering various programmes, therapy, and counselling. Stevie Maginn, a Communications and Engagement Manager from Relate NI said they believe, “a reduction in divorce figures is part attributed to the fact that less people are opting to get married in the first place”. 

As the years riddled with lockdowns and restrictions approach, in 2019 marriages saw a decrease of 12.5 per cent compared to 2017. 

Stevie from Relate NI says that the reduction in marriage figures lends itself to a decrease of divorces in Northern Ireland.  He adds, “there is an increased focus on relationship well-being rather than type of relationship (married, living together, in a relationships etc), and this is a very welcome thing”.

However, this ‘flexibility’ as expressed by the NI Wedding Celebrant has encouraged 19.9 per cent of couples to have a religious ceremony outside of religious buildings.

Steve Ames the celebrant adds that, “many couples who are otherwise religious might be put off by restrictions placed on their ceremony in a church setting. In a non-church setting, couples are usually much more free to choose their own music, readings, decorations etc. They can also often personalise their vows in a way they would not be able to do in a church setting.”

In 2019, the divorce rate spiked by 12.8 per cent compared to 2017. 

Although as Northern Ireland reached the pandemic years, the divorce rate lowered in 2020 by 36 per cent. Whilst 2020 marriage figures dropped by almost half (48 per cent).  Both figures experienced a decrease due to the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In 2020 religious marriages being held outside of religious spaces were on the rise again, accounting for 27.7 per cent of marriages.

Steve the wedding celebrant said, “that although church attendance is down, many people still consider themselves to have some kind of religious faith even if they feel at odds with formal religious institutions. 

“Having a religious celebrant conduct their wedding in a hotel, on the beach or in their own homes allows them to at least acknowledge their spirituality without having to embrace the institutional church.”

As lockdown rules eased in 2021, there was a 35 per cent increase in divorces and the most common reason for divorce remained as non-cohabitation. Despite the rise in divorces from 2020 to 2021, this figure is still lower than those a decade or two decades previous.

Stevie Maginn from Relate NI states that, “the fact that NI continues with an archaic, drawn-out divorce system, which requires one partner to apportion blame on the other in order to access a divorce, means that our numbers of divorce are likely to be less than other parts of these islands which have recently adopted a ‘No Fault Divorce’ system.”

On the other hand, love is not at a complete loss as 2021 saw an increase in marriage figures by 112.7 per cent. With 32.3 per cent of religious ceremonies being held in approved venues.

As the interest in these types of weddings grow, Steve the wedding celebrant says, “I do think that the desire for these kinds of wedding ceremonies will continue to increase, I don’t think the actual numbers will reflect this. That is because I am one of only a few religious celebrants who are actually willing and available to conduct religious ceremonies in non-church settings”.

Overall, the pandemic isn’t the heartbreaker it is made out to be as Northern Ireland’s marriage and divorce figures after the pandemic rise to the same level as pre-pandemic rates. 

Although if a ‘No Fault Divorce’ system was to be introduced in NI, divorce figures could increase.For more information on marriage and divorce statistics visit NISRA.

Author profile

Holly Fleck is an Ulster University Journalism Graduate and current Journalism MA student at Ulster University. She has a passion for Health and Business reporting. Holly has previously hosted UUSU's The Student Show podcast, Ulster University events as well as contributing content to QR's The Scoop and Crosskennan Lane Animal Sanctuary.