Divorce numbers have leapt by nearly a quarter in a year in one of the steepest ever rises.
There was a 23 per cent increase in the number of finalised divorces in the 12 months before lockdown, figures obtained by the Mail show.
The surge is among the biggest since numbers were first recorded in the mid-19th century.
It comes ahead of reforms championed by Boris Johnson that will make separation easier and trigger a rise in the figures.
Church of England General Synod member Andrea Minichiello Williams said: ‘In our social structures, we have gutted marriage of its meaning as a solemn vow between one man and one woman for life.’
Mrs Williams, head of the Christian Concern group, added: ‘If we change its meaning, it is in danger of meaning nothing at all. No wonder divorce is on the up.’
Ministry of Justice figures show that in the year to the end of March, 112,284 divorces were finalised in the courts in England and Wales, compared with 91,609 in the year to March 2019.
The trend points to the reversal of a 25-year decline in marriage break-ups. By 2018, both numbers and rates of divorce were lower than they had been at any time since 1971 – the last time legal reforms made divorce easier.
Only a fraction of the recent increase appears to be a result of delays in the newly computerised system for handling divorces that led to backlogs in 2017.
The new divorce reforms, bitterly opposed by critics who say they will lead to the destruction of more marriages, are to come into force next year.
They will allow for divorce on demand, in which no husband or wife will be able to challenge their partner’s request for divorce.
Under the new system, divorce will follow automatically if either makes a statement that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. There will be no question of fault.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: ‘The number of divorces finalised in 2019-20 was just 3 per cent higher than the decade’s average.
They added: ‘There has not been a significant backlog at any point or an increase in the time taken to process cases.’
Officials said that an improvement in digital handling of divorces since last September may have contributed to the increase.