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Archive for December, 2014

The Statistical Facts About Marriage and Divorce
Friday, December 5th, 2014

By Damien Bowen, Director at Bowen Buchbinder Vilensky Lawyers

5 December 2014

The media is fond of whipping up emotions about the state of marriage and divorce.  Every emerging trend tends to be scrutinised as possible evidence to support often wildly contradictory arguments, for example, that “marriage has become irrelevant” or “marriage is the new cool;” that “people can’t afford to get divorced because of the economy” or “narcissism is driving divorce rates higher.”

Time for a cold shower in the form of the statistical facts about marriage and divorce in Australia.

Marriage rates steady for the past 60 years

The number of people getting married each year, per thousand of the population, has remained comparatively steady.  Marriage rates were around 7 per 1000 for most of Australia’s history, with a peak during the Second World War, when troubled times saw marriage rates spike at 12 per 1000.  Since then, figures returned to their long term average, trending downwards since the 1980s to around 5 people per 1000 by 2010.

Yes, 5 per 1000 is a fair bit lower than 7 per 1000, but given the profound changes our society has experienced over time, what strikes us most about these figures is the enduring significance of marriage, through both good times and bad.

One third of marriages end in divorce

One in three marriages ends in divorce, a figure which has been stable for decades.  The number of divorces increased dramatically after 1975, when the Family Law Act was promulgated.  Since then, divorce rates have declined steadily, with a small kick upwards in the 2000’s until present when the number of divorces is down in all States except WA.   Why is WA the exception?  This calls for speculation.  One explanation may be the number of FIFO workers in WA. They are earning good money but long absences can be destructive of family life, particularly if there are children.

Writing in the New York Times a few days ago, journalist Claire Cain Miller made a point about marriage and divorce in America which I would say holds true in Australia too:

“Despite hand-wringing about the institution of marriage, marriages in this country are stronger today than they have been in a long time. The divorce rate peaked in the 1970s and early 1980s and has been declining for the three decades since.”

The rise of de facto relationships

Perhaps the most noteworthy trend of all has been the increase in the number of de facto relationships over the last 25 years. In 1986 5% of couples lived in de facto relationships; now 16% of couples do. An increasing number of people are living together before marriage.  Perhaps its “try before you buy”, but while, in 1975, 16% of people marrying had been living together previously, by 2008 that figure had risen to 77%.

Do more people separate after Christmas?

Is it true that there’s a post-Christmas spike in divorce after yet another unpleasant experience of enforced jollity with the spouse and in-laws?  The ABS does not publish statistics on this trend, so it is mainly anecdotal.  But my personal experience over more than 30 years in family law is that there is a definite seasonality about divorce, with a peak after Christmas and the New Year, and a trough during winter.


In short, whatever the ups and downs of any particular set of statistics, the trends set by celebrities and excited chatter in opinion columns and blogs, marriage has always been a stable social institution in Australia and continues to be so.  Two out of three people who get married will never need to concern themselves with the details of divorce.  But for the one in three who do, we’re here to help make it as civilised and painless as possible.

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