Divorce Rate in Australia
Every year the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) collects data on the number of marriages and divorces that occur in Australia, and in each individual state and territory. Over the last few decades, various changes in the marriage and divorce rate in Australia can be observed. These changes can be explained in part by reference to significant changes in the laws on marriage and divorce, such as the introduction of ‘no-fault’ divorce in 1975 and the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2017. The marriage and divorce rate are also affected by social factors, such as the COVID pandemic.
Divorce rate in Australia post-1975
In 1975, the Whitlam government passed the Family Law Act, which introduced the ‘no-fault’ divorce system. Under this system, all that is required to obtain a divorce is that the marriage has broken down irretrievably and that the parties have been separated for at least 12 months.
Prior to the Family Law Act, a divorce could only be obtained if the applicant could prove that their spouse was to blame for the breakdown of the marriage, with 14 grounds for divorce available ranging from habitual drunkenness to adultery and desertion. This approach to divorce was based on the religious principles that underpinned marriage at the time. The social transformation Australia experienced during the 1960s led to the reframing of marriage as a contract that either party should be able to leave freely and equally and without blame.
After ‘no-fault’ divorce was introduced, Australia experienced a spike in the number of divorces, with 24,307 divorces recorded in 1975 and 63,230 divorces in 1976 (compared to 12,198 divorces in 1974). Since then, the divorce rate has flattened out at an average of around 50,000 divorces per year since the 1990s.
Divorce rate in Australia since 2009
The divorce rate in Australia has fallen over the last decade, from a rate of 2.8 divorces per 1,000 people in 2009 to 1.9 divorces per 1,000 people in 2019. However, the marriage rate has also fallen over the same period, from 5.5 marriages per 1,000 people in 2009 to 4.5 marriages per 1,000 people in 2019.
Currently, one in three Australian marriages ends in a divorce, with the average marriage lasting 12 years.
Marriage and divorce rates post-same-sex marriage
In December 2017, the Marriage Act 1961 was amended to allow persons of the same sex to marry. In the first year after same-sex marriage was introduced, 119,188 couples married and of these, 5.5% were same-sex couples. In the following year, 113,815 marriages were registered and of these, 5,507 were same-sex marriages, accounting for 4.8% of all marriages.
The number of marriages in 2018 and 2019 did not represent a significant increase from the number of marriages in previous years, with that number remaining between 110,000 and 120,000 per year.
The ABS has not yet released statistics on same-sex divorces in Australia.
Divorce rate in Australia post-COVID
The COVID-19 pandemic brought job losses, financial pressure and travel restrictions. As a result, the divorce rate in Australia – as in other countries – is expected to skyrocket. Google searches for ‘divorce’ reportedly peaked in June 2020, with the highest number of searches coming from internet users on the Gold Coast and the central New South Wales coast.
Marriage and divorce rates overseas
Around the world, marriage is becoming less common and people are marrying later in life. There has been an upward trend in divorce rates around the world since the 1970s although this varies from country to country, with wealthier countries typically having higher divorce rates.
In countries that have introduced same-sex marriage, a spike in same-sex marriages was generally seen immediately after the reform, followed by a flattening of the same-sex marriage rate. Some countries report same-sex divorce rates that are lower than the overall divorce rates, while others report a similar divorce rate among same-sex married couple as among married couples generally.
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