Divorce and family breakdowns are costing the national economy more than $14 billion a year in government assistance payments and court costs, an exclusive News Corp analysis has found.
That figure has blown out by $2 billion in the last two years alone, with each Australian taxpayer now paying about $1100 a year to support families in crisis.
The financial sting is one of the reasons why Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews has confirmed he will overhaul early intervention strategies in a bid to strengthen Australian families.
Mr Andrews told News Corp that as early as this month he will act to establish an expert panel on early intervention, which will be made up of a mix of practitioners and academics.
It will examine strategies to lower the divorce rate and better identify and assist vulnerable children and young people, including looking at whether more psychologists need to be deployed in kindergartens and preschools across the country.
“The reality is that most programs are programs that try to ameliorate the impact of marriage and family relationship breakdowns,” he said.
“There is not enough that goes to early intervention.”
A News Corp analysis of information from the federal Attorney-General’s Department, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Social Services, shows that this financial year alone the government will spend $12.5 billion on support payments to single parents, including family tax benefits and rent assistance.
Another $1.5 billion will be spent on the administration of the child support system, while the cost to taxpayers from family disputes in Australian courts is $202 million.
Almost 50,000 people get divorced each year in Australia, and while the divorce rate declined between 2002 and 2008, it is now on the rise again.
Over the last two years, the cost of divorce to the national economy has increased by more than $2 billion, or 17 per cent.
Mr Andrews — who in May estimated that each divorce was costing taxpayers at least $100,000 — said understanding what divorce was costing the nation was important.
“Whatever the figure comes out as, it is still a significant amount of money and I do think it is worth knowing because we are more likely to do more in terms of prevention,” he said.
In addition to his trial offering of $200 relationship counselling vouchers to couples looking to wed, which has this week seen 250 couples register for the program in its first two days, Mr Andrews said the overhaul of early intervention programs will also examine whether current schemes, like the Communities for Children program, are operating as effectively as possible.
He will also demand government service providers be more outcome focused.
EARLY INTERVENTION KEY
Academic and relationship expert from the University of Queensland Matthew Bambling said he was not surprised the cost of divorce to the national economy had now toppled $14 billion.
“It is one of the key sources of transitory poverty among working people,” Dr Bambling said.
“People may be required to rely in greater part on the social welfare system, there is the potential for court costs borne through the government-funded system,” he said.
“If we are not thinking about this as a society, we are likely to pay the price with a lot more mopping up at the other end.”
Relationships Australia’s Grant Pearson has welcomed the government’s relationship counselling voucher system and its push to overhaul early intervention strategies.
He said more government resources for programs which deliver early intervention, like relationship counselling, would be beneficial both to couples and to the nation’s budget bottom line.
“For every program we have, we have waiting lists,” Mr Pearson said.
“There is often a wait to get into our main line services, and it can be up to two months — which is quite a while if a client is under pressure in the eleventh hour of their relationship,” he said.
Like all besotted first time parents, Rebecca and Marcus Andreoli are quickly adjusting to the pressures that come with a having five month old baby.
But the Bondi couple, who have been together for seven years and married for half of that time, are conscious of the importance of taking time out to prioritise their relationship amid the whirlwind of parenthood.
“We definitely try to get out somewhere alone together, we try to do that once a fortnight,” Ms Andreoli says.
She said spending time together as a couple, as well as with their friends, helps keep their relationship strong.
Communicating well with each other about the demands of daily life is also a priority for the couple.
“We talk to each other about little things before they become big issue, we wait until we are both calm and then bring things up early, because it’s too easy for little resentments to build,” she said.
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