Civil justice statistics in Scotland: 2014-2015

The 2014-15 Civil Justice in Scotland release includes: 1. MAIN STATISTICS TABLES (compromising tables that appear in this bulletin) 2. DIVORCE & DISSOLUTION STATISTICS TABLES (further breakdowns on divorce & dissolution) 3. SUPPLEMENTARY STATISTICS TABLES (additional statistics on civil law cases in sheriff courts and the Court of Session) 4. BACKGROUND DATA TABLES (an interactive dataset on civil law court cases by court, that can be used to generate user customised tables and charts)

This document is part of a collection

5. Family

Divorce and dissolution make up 76 per cent of family cases

Of the 9,030 divorces granted in 2014-15 over three-fifths used the simplified procedure

One per cent of family cases are heard in the Court of Session

Family law in Scotland

Family law covers a wide range of areas related to families, couples and children. These include divorces and dissolutions when relationships break down and couples decide to separate; applications relating to parental responsibilities and rights; and permanence and adoption cases.

Family law also covers interdicts preventing a party from making specific contact or coming within close proximity to another, and exclusion orders that suspend the rights of an individual to live in the family home. Family procedure cases made up 18 per cent of all civil court cases initiated in 2014-15.

This section also contains statistics on sheriff court summary applications relating to adoption and children's hearings.

Scottish Crime and Justice Survey

In the 2014-15 Scottish Crime and Justice Survey, two per cent of respondents experienced problems to do with the behaviour of a partner, ex-partner or other person harassing them, one per cent experienced a problem to do with child contact, residence or maintenance and one per cent experienced problems to do with divorce or separation.

Various vulnerable groups were more likely to experience at least one of the above three problems. For example, those living in areas of multiple deprivation suffered a higher prevalence (six per cent) compared to the rest (three per cent). Those who lived in rented (as opposed to owner occupied) accommodation were also more likely to have experienced one of these problems: seven per cent for social rent and five per cent for private rent as opposed to two per cent for owner occupied. Victims of crime also reported experiencing a higher prevalence (seven per cent) in contrast to non-victims (three per cent).

Amongst those who experienced at least one of the above three problems and considered them to be most important, half (51 per cent) had already solved the problem, while 34 per cent were still trying to solve it. Twenty eight per cent had sought help or advice from others excluding from family or friends and over half (60 per cent) had made contact with a solicitor[4] for help.


Divorce is the formal procedure that ends a marriage, whilst the procedure for ending civil partnerships is known as dissolution. In addition to divorce and dissolution, the courts can also take decisions on where a child should live when parents separate; whether the non-resident parent should have contact with the child and who should have parental responsibilities and rights. Where children are involved, or there is a claim for financial provision, the ordinary procedure is used. However the majority of divorces and dissolutions use a simplified procedure which is a low cost and simple method.

The court statistics presented in this bulletin relate only to the principal crave of the case. This means that the statistics on certain case types, such as contact and residence, do not reflect the true number of actions brought to court as these issues are often ancillary craves in a case where the principal crave is for divorce.

During 2014-15, 13,605 family cases were initiated in the civil courts and 11,323 were disposed. Although there has been an overall decrease in cases initiated and disposed since 2008-09, the number of family cases has been relatively stable since 2008-09. Divorce / dissolution and parental responsibilities and rights are the biggest case types and together account for 95 per cent of family cases initiated (Figure 9 and Table 5).

Figure 9: Family cases initiated in the civil courts, 2014-15

Figure 9: Family cases initiated in the civil courts, 2014-15

Court of session

Only a small proportion of family cases are heard in the Court of Session. In 2014-15 there were 148 family cases initiated there which represented four per cent of cases in the General Department of that court. Divorce and dissolution account for 89 per cent of family cases initiated in the Court of Session (Table 6).

Sheriff court

There were 13,457 ordinary cause family procedure cases initiated in the sheriff courts during 2014-15, very similar to the 13,744 cases initiated in 2013-14. The majority were divorce and dissolution which made up 76 per cent of initiated family cases. In 2014-15, 96 per cent of divorce and dissolution cases were undefended. Decree of divorce or dissolution was granted in the vast majority of cases (Table 7). Further information on divorce and dissolution cases can be found later in this chapter.

The majority of the remaining family cases initiated in 2014-15 related to parental responsibilities and rights. Within this category, the 1,281 contact cases were the most common. It should be noted that this statistic relates only to cases where contact is the principal crave. As in previous years, relatively few parental responsibilities and rights cases were disposed in 2014-15 compared to those initiated (1,571 disposed and 2,582 initiated). One possible reason for this is that these cases can be sisted (suspended), whilst sheriffs seek further information, and parties may resolve their issues outside court during this time. These cases are not then brought back to court for disposal (Table 7).

As detailed in the Recent changes to civil legislation section, the introduction of the Children's Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 has resulted in changes to the court business relating to children's hearings reported in Table 8. This Act was implemented on June 2013 and while the statistics for 'extend/vary interim order' (previously referred to as child in place of safety), and children's hearings 'referral' and 'appeal' are based on similar definitions to those used for equivalent statistics previously, caution should be exercised when making comparisons between years. The statistics for the category 'Children's Hearings Act 2011 - Other' are new and have no direct equivalent in previous bulletins.

The large majority (85 per cent) of applications to extend/vary an interim order were granted. Similarly, most children's hearing - referral applications were granted and established the grounds for referral with the case being referred back to the Children's Hearing to dispose of the case (Table 8).

The number of adoption petitions has been relatively stable in recent years. In 2014-15 there were 425 cases initiated. In contrast, the number of applications initiated for permanence orders with authority to adopt has been steadily rising, and reached 346 in 2014-15. The disposals of adoption petitions and permanence orders with authority to adopt show a similar pattern with nearly all these applications being granted (98 per cent and 94 per cent respectively) (Table 8).

Divorce and Dissolution of a Civil Partnership

Divorce is the formal procedure that ends a marriage whilst the procedure for ending same-sex civil partnerships is known as dissolution.

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force on 5 December 2005, allowing legal relationships between two people of the same sex to be formed. The first civil partnerships in Scotland were registered on 20 December 2005.

Divorce and dissolution cases can be raised in either the Court of Session or the sheriff courts. Since 1984, most divorce cases in Scotland have been heard in the sheriff courts.

There are two grounds for divorce, which are:

  • The irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, which can be established by:
    • Adultery committed by the defender;
    • Unreasonable behaviour by the defender;
    • One year non-cohabitation and the defender consents to the divorce;
    • Two years non-cohabitation if one party doesn't agree to the divorce.
  • Either party being issued with an interim gender recognition certificate.

The grounds for dissolution of a civil partnership and means of proving irretrievable breakdown are similar to those for ending a marriage although adultery does not establish the irretrievable breakdown of a civil partnership. Same-sex unions from other jurisdictions were not recognised in Scotland until the Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force and so no dissolutions were possible until then.

Divorces and dissolutions can be applied for using two main procedures in the courts - simplified procedure and ordinary procedure. The simplified procedure is a low cost, simple method of obtaining a divorce/dissolution in cases where there are no children under 16 and no monetary claims by one spouse or partner against another[5]. If a divorcing couple cannot agree about the grounds for the divorce, or issues about the children, money or property the divorce application will go to court under the ordinary procedure.

The latest data on marriages and civil partnerships registered can be found in the Marriages and Civil Partnerships section of the National Records of Scotland website.

On 12 March 2014, The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 received Royal Assent. Following this Act, the first same sex marriage ceremonies took place in Scotland on 31 December 2014. In addition, couples in civil partnerships are able to change their relationship into a marriage.

Divorce and Dissolution Statistics

Statistics on divorce and dissolution of a civil partnership were previously presented in the Divorces and Dissolutions in Scotland bulletin. The final bulletin in that series presented information about divorces and dissolutions in 2009-10. Statistics for 2010-11 and onwards have been included within the Civil Justice Statistics in Scotland bulletin series.

The divorce and dissolution statistics from Table 9 and Table 10 are derived from different Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service data to the other statistics in this bulletin. See the section on Divorce and dissolution data sources for more information.

Further statistics, broken down by characteristics such as age at marriage/partnership, age at divorce/dissolution, duration and form of marriage/partnership, are available on the Civil Justice Statistics in Scotland datasets website within the Divorce & Dissolutions supplementary tables.

The number of divorces has seen a downward trend with a slow decline from around 13,300 in 1985 to 9,030 in 2014-15. The main exception to this trend was the sharp rise in divorces in 2006. This rise can be attributed to the reduction in non-cohabitation periods required to prove irretrievable breakdown of a marriage brought into force by the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 (Figure 10).

The total number of divorces granted in Scotland in 2014-15 was 9,030, six per cent less than in 2013-14 (9,625). In 2014-15, 63 per cent of divorces granted used the simplified procedure and 37 per cent used the ordinary procedure (Table 9).

There were 81 civil partnership dissolutions granted in 2014-15, up from 61 in 2013-14. The vast majority of dissolutions granted in 2014-15 (96 per cent) used the simplified procedure (Table 10).

Figure 10: Downward trend of divorces since 1985

Figure 10: Downward trend of divorces since 1985

Figure 11 and Figure 12 show the proportion of divorces and dissolutions that were granted from 2010-11 to 2014-15 by reason[6]. Non-cohabitation for two years (69 per cent in 2014-15) and non-cohabitation for one year with consent (27 per cent in 2014-15) were the two most common reasons for divorce. The reasons for divorce have not changed much since 2010-11.

Since 2008-09, the proportion of dissolutions where the reason was non-cohabitation for one year had been trending downward, while the proportion where the reason was non-cohabitation for two years had been increasing. However, in 2014-15 these trends reversed. Non-cohabitation for one year was again the most common reason for dissolution in 2014-15, accounting for 58 per cent of dissolutions, followed by non-cohabitation for two years (40 per cent).

Figure 11: Divorces granted by reason, 2010-11 to 2014-15

Figure 11: Divorces granted by reason, 2010-11 to 2014-15

Figure 12: Dissolutions granted by reason, 2010-11 to 2014-15

Figure 12: Dissolutions granted by reason, 2010-11 to 2014-15


Email: Eddie Chan

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