Marriage and Divorce Rates and Statistics in Australia 2022

Marriage and Divorce Rates and Statistics in Australia blog cover
Sophia Bechara - Family Lawyer

Sophia Bechara - Family Lawyer

Sophia initially joined the Unified Lawyers Family Law team in 2020 as a PLT student. Through assisting our experienced family lawyers Sophia gained invaluable experience and ignited her passion in...

Relationships can be difficult even in normal circumstances, and there’s no doubt the pandemic has put a strain on many couples. Many Australian couples have been (or still are) working at home, home-schooling their children, and facing financial strain from job and business loss. This creates a hothouse of stress.

Ongoing lockdowns are predicted to contribute to rising divorce rates in the next few years, while at the same time, the number of marriages will be artificially suppressed by restrictions on gatherings. As a result of these unprecedented factors, the statistics in relation to marriage and divorce for 2020 and 2021 are likely to be inconsistent with previous years.

This article looks at some of the key statistics on divorce from recent years. 

cartoon picture of dividing business in a divorce

How many Australians are married?

While it might seem like everyone in the country is in a committed relationship, the statistics show that this is actually not the case. The latest numbers from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) suggest that only 60% of Australians are married or partnered. 

Marriage Rates in Australia 

In Australia, Men (65%) are more likely than women (56%) to be in a committed relationship. Women are more likely to have never been married (29%), to be divorced (8%), widowed (4%) or separated (3%).

Millennials (69%) are more likely to be married or partnered, and baby boomers are statistically more likely to be divorced (15%).  Due to their young age, generation Z are the least likely to have already tied the knot, but it will be some time before it becomes clear whether this generation actually have a reduced inclination to marry. 

Amongst the states and territories of Australia, those living in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) are the most likely to be married (66%), while adults in Tasmania are the most likely to be divorced (11%). Victoria is the state with the most single adults, as 29% of Victorians have never been married.

How many people get married each year?

In 2019, there were 113,815 registered marriages in Australia, a drop of 4.5% from the previous year. In the first six months of 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic caused the cancellation or postponement of marriage ceremonies, there was a further 30% decrease in weddings compared to the same period in the previous year.

cartoon of wedding rings and hands

Less couples getting married

There has been a fundamental shift in social attitudes towards marriage in Australia. In mainstream Australian society there has been an almost total erosion of the social stigma attached to “living in sin”. Today, couples regularly live together and co-parent children outside marriage. 

There is also less practical pressure on couples to marry, as a committed couple has much the same legal and social rights as a married couple. For instance, a de facto couple is able to access the same property rights as a married couple, and is also able to access similar (although not identical) social security and taxation benefits. 

As a result of all of these factors, the crude marriage rate has dropped more than half from the rate of 9.6 marriages per 1,000 residents in 1970, to 4.6 marriages per 1,000 residents in 2017.

Average marriage length

In an age when some celebrity marriages can be measured in days, and there is little social stigma associated with divorce, it may appear that marriages are increasingly short lived. However, according to the ABS, the median duration of a marriage that ended in divorce in 2019 was just over 12 years, up from just over 11 years in 1999.  This means that, despite the rapid social changes that have occurred since the turn of the century, people are staying married for approximately the same length of time as they were at the end of the twentieth century.

Cohabitation before marriage

As social norms have changed, our approach to marriage has changed profoundly. In Australia, it is now far more common for couples to live together before entering into the commitment of marriage. In addition, couples are cohabitating for a longer period prior to marrying, with many seeing this as a sensible test of compatibility. In 1976 only 16% of couples lived together prior to marriage. In 2016, the number of couples who cohabitated before marriage dramatically increased to 80.8%.

1 in 7 Australians has lived with an ex-partner

Not only are most Australians living with a partner prior to marriage, a significant minority are also still living with an ex-partner after the relationship breaks down. A couple will typically live separated under one roof for practical reasons: if it is financially not possible to set up a separate household, or it is better for the children to provide consistency of care, or if it makes more sense to stay in the same household until the end of a lease or the property is sold. 

Finder survey of 1,010 respondents found that 4% of Australians are currently living with their former partner or spouse, and 15% have previously lived with an ex-partner to save on housing costs or avoid a costly move. That is equivalent to roughly 3.6 million people who have lived under the same roof with an ex-partner despite the probable discomfort this would cause. Millennials (26%) are the most likely to have continued living with an ex partner, followed by 21% of generation Z. This is compared to 96% of baby boomers who have never stayed living with an ex partner for any reason.

12% of marriages are second marriages

In 2016, 12% of marriages were between couples both of whom had previously been married before and were bravely taking the plunge again. A further 16% of marriages involved one spouse who was entering into their second marriage. Unfortunately, statistically, a second (or third) marriage is more likely to fail than a first marriage. In fact, up to 60% of second marriages will also end in divorce.

Same Sex Marriage

From 2017, not only was it legal for a same sex couples to marry in Australia, there was also now recognition for any marriage that was performed overseas. Same sex married couples in Australia are treated the same as any other married couples, irrespective of where the marriage took place, as long as it was legal in the country where it was performed. 

Divorce rates in Australia

How many people get divorced each year?

Of course statistics cannot convey a full picture of what happens to families impacted by divorce. Behind every one of the following numbers, there are two people who, almost certainly, set out with high hopes for a committed and joyful marriage. Some divorces are a welcome relief to both parties, but divorce can often be one of the most painful and disruptive experiences of an individual’s life. 

In 2017, the number of divorces per state were as follows:

  • New South Wales 13,361
  • Victoria 11,179
  • Queensland 10,890
  • Western Australia 3,127
  • South Australia 5,510
  • Tasmania 1,019
  • Australian Capital Territory 1,210
  • Northern Territory 308

Divorce rate in Australia

In the 1960s, social change began to impact on attitudes to marriage, but divorce was still difficult to obtain. Divorce rates rose sharply in the 1970s after the introduction of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), which came into operation in Australia in January 1976 and allowed no-fault divorce. The highest divorce rate peaked at 4.6 per 1,000 resident population in Australia immediately after the introduction of no-fault divorce, but this represented a backlog of divorces that had been pending in anticipation of legislative change.

Following this peak, the divorce rate started trending down in the 2000s. In fact, the divorce rate has steadily fallen over time, down from an average of 2.8 divorces per 1,000 people in 1999 to 1.9 divorces per 1,000 people in 2019. 2016 marked the lowest point in crude divorce rate in Australia since 1976, when the rate dropped to 1.9 per thousand individuals living in Australia. 

In 2019, there were 49,116 divorces granted in Australia. There are concerns the pandemic and ensuing recession could cause divorce and separation rates to rise in the coming months and years. In a 2020 survey from Relationships Australia, 42% of respondents were finding that isolation was negatively impacting their relationship with their partner. Statistics from the Separation Guide show a 314% increase in the number of couples thinking about separating during lockdown. 

What year of marriage is divorce most common?

The largest proportion of couples separating are those who have been married nine years or less. In 2017, 56% of separations and 43% of divorces were from couples in this category.

However, the proportion of couples divorcing who had been married for 20 years and longer has been increasing in recent decades. In 1980 and 1990, 20% of divorces were couples who had been married for 20 years, but this statistic increased to 28% in 2010 and 27% in 2017.

Fewer divorces involve minor children

The proportion of couples who divorce when they have children under 18 years has fallen notably over time. In 1975, 68% of divorces involved one or more minor children who were in the care of the divorcing couple. In 2017, this number had decreased to 47%. 

This trend is partly linked to the increase in older couples divorcing after long relationships, as these couples are more likely to have successfully launched their children prior to the marriage being dissolved. 

Divorcees are more likely to be “spenders”

In what may or may not be one of the spurious correlations occasionally thrown up by statistics, it appears that adults who are divorced report being twice as likely to have credit card debt than those who are married. Divorcees are, in fact, more likely to classify themselves as “spenders” compared to those who are married: a 2021 survey found 47% of divorced adults identify as spenders rather than savers, compared to 38% of those who are married.

At what age are couples divorcing?

Divorce is also happening at a later age. According to statistics gathered by the ABS in 2019, the age that an adult divorces differs slightly according to sex. Males are more likely to divorce between the age of 45-49, and females between the age of 40-44. This is a change from information gathered in 2016, when the most common age for couples to divorce was between the age of 25 and 29. These statistics almost certainly reflect the fact that couples in Australia are waiting to marry in the first place, or are committing to a second or third marriage that also ends in divorce, thereby raising the median age of divorce. 

What percentage of divorces are initiated by the wife in Australia?

Historically, it was more common for a female to file for a divorce in Australia than a male spouse. However this statistic is less reliable as it is now more common for couples to file divorce applications jointly, and therefore it is less easy to discern whether one of the couple is the driving force behind the divorce application. 

Australia divorce rates vs the world

The rate of divorce in the world has risen over the last half century, but this rise has not been even, resulting in notable disparities between countries and regions of the world. The highest rate of divorce in the world is Russia with 4.8 per 1,000 people, while the lowest divorce rate is in Sri Lanka with 0.15 per 1,000 people.  

The divorce rate in Australia sits in the mid point of this range, with 1.9 per 1,000 residents. This places Australia behind the United States at 2.5 divorces occurring per 1,000 people each year.

Here For You

The family lawyers at Unified Lawyers understand how difficult it can be to contemplate divorcing a spouse, especially when there are children to consider. Please contact the team for any advice about divorce proceedings, property settlements or custody negotiations.

Sophia Bechara - Family Lawyer
Sophia Bechara - Family Lawyer

Sophia initially joined the Unified Lawyers Family Law team in 2020 as a PLT student. Through assisting our experienced family lawyers Sophia gained invaluable experience and ignited her passion in family law. Sophia has a passion for understanding people with a particular interest in better serving their needs in the bigger picture of life and family dynamics.