Australia’s divorce rates: the real statistics

New figures show a big increase in people divorcing after 20 years or more of marriage. But it’s not as big as some would have you believe.

New figures from the Australian Institute of Family Studies have shown a big increase in people divorcing after 20 years or more of marriage. However, it’s not exactly as big as some media outlets would lead you to believe as most publications got the numbers wrong.

Rate of divorce after 20 years of marriage doubles‘, according to one story. And ‘Parents wait until children go, then do the same thing‘ from another.

The headline statistic is that people are waiting longer to divorce. This is based on an analysis of the proportion of marriages lasting 20 years or over before ending in divorce. A media release from the AIFS put this figure at 13% in 1990 and 28% in 2011, which many people erroneously reported.

However, the actual report shows 20.2% in 1990 to 27.6% in 2011. The same figure for ‘final separation’ is 13% to 18.3%. They’ve mixed up the separation and divorce numbers. There’s actually a much more mild 7.4% increase between 1990 and 2011. So we are seeing an increase in the duration of marriages that end in divorce, just not quite as much as all that.

Proportion of marriages that lasted less than 10 years and greater than 20

Proportion of marriages that lasted less than 10 years and greater than 20

So, what are the other trends coming out of this new report?

You’re more likely to get divorced when you’re younger.

And of younger people who are married, women are more likely to experience divorce than men. In fact the rates of divorce are higher for women than men up until the 40-44 age bracket, where men then have higher rates up to 65 and over, likely due to an overall tendency for men in marriages to be older, and women younger. The AIFS report also suggests older men have a higher tendency to remarry than older women.

Age-specific divorce per 1000 people, married men and women, 2011

Divorce is down, and has been for a while.

From 2007-2011 the rate per 1000 people has stayed around 2.2 and 2.3. This is down from 2.9 in 1996, and very far down from the biggest peak of 4.9 in 1976 after the Family Law Act 1975 came into effect.

The age that people get divorced has increased dramatically.

The median age of divorce for men is at the highest its been since 1970, with 44.5 in 2011. Women are similarly high at 41.7. This is up from a historical low of 35 and 33 for men and women respectively in 1980.

Divorce and marriage rate – number per 1000 people

Divorces that involve children are decreasing too, which the AIFS suggests means people actually are staying together for the sake of the kids. This fits with the increase in the proportion of longer marriages ending in divorce we saw above.

The report also highlights the relative instability of people who are unmarried, but living together, versus married couples. Citing numbers from the Growing Up In Australia report – for infants who were living with married parents in 2004, 12% were with only one parent by 2010. The same figure for unmarried couples cohabiting is 27%, suggesting unmarried couples are more than twice as likely to break up.

Empty nesters divorcing in droves


Instead of the seven-year itch, Australia’s married couples are increasingly calling it quits once they’re past the 20-year mark.

For a growing number of couples, “till death do us part” seems to translate into “until the kids leave home.”

The Australian Institute of Family Studies has released a report titled Working Out Relationships , which reveals that the number of couples divorcing after 20 years of marriage has more than doubled from 13% in 1990 to 28% in 2011.

Director of the institute, Professor Alan Hayes, told 1233 ABC Newcastle’s Jill Emberson that while most divorces still occur in the first 10 years of marriage, more and more couples are splitting after two decades together.

“It’s a big proportional increase,” he says.

In the majority of cases divorces are initiated by the wife, and middle-aged men are more likely to remarry than divorced women.

Professor Hayes says often the husbands are taken by suprise when their wife wants a divorce, and even though they recover better financially from their marriage ending, the emotional toll on men seems to be worse.

“While men may recover financially, the depth of the emotional scars seems to be much greater,” he says.

The statistics seem to indicate that couples are staying together for their children, with the number of divorces involving kids under 18 declining.

“We have a generation now who are better educated and have better life prospects and choices,” the director says.

“Women are able to exercise choice when they’re in a relationship which is starting to be less than emotionally fulfilling.

“People can paper over the cracks while they’re focused on raising children, and then of course when children leave the nest sometimes the depth and width of the cracks starts to become more apparent.”

Overall, the professor says Australia’s divorce rate is dropping, perhaps due to 80% of couples now living together before they marry.

And he says while couples are more aware of the impact on children, divorcing later doesn’t avoid that problem entirely.

“You can’t just assume that adult children won’t be as gutted as younger children,” he says.

“It often comes as a great surprise, particularly to the man involved, but also to those around the couple.”

Professor Hayes says more attention needs to be paid to supporting middle-aged couples when they develop problems in their marriage.

Related Family Law Judgments

Australian judge warns warring parents to not use social media as a ‘weapon’

Social-MediaParents involved in divorce and custody battles must beware of using social media as a ‘weapon’, an Australian judge has warned.

In a recent hearing at the Federal Circuit Court, Judge Warwick Neville ordered a marshal to investigate Facebook postings made by a father involved in an acrimonious child custody dispute.

The unnamed father had reportedly made harsh criticisms of the court system on the social networking site. The man had also revealed confidential information about the case, claimed the magistrate and expert witnesses had been duped by the mother and even alleged that the mother abused their children.

According to a report on Perthnow.comsuch posts could be in breach of the Australian Family Law Act 1975, which prohibits the publication of court proceedings.

The judge described Facebook and other social media sites as an “unfortunate and increasing feature of modern litigation”.

“It is a veritable Aladdin’s cave which parties (and lawyers) readily and regularly explore for (invariably incriminating) evidence to be used in litigation. As a weapon, it has particularly insidious features.”

Social media users:

“…inhabit the cyber-sphere and operate as `Facebook rangers’ who `hit and run’ with their petty and malicious commentary, and seem to gloat (or be encouraged) by the online audience that waits to join the ghoulish, jeering crowd in the nether-world of cyber-space.”

Federal Court Judge Warwick Neville orders investigation into father’s Facebook posts

facebook, defamation, s121, family law actDIVORCING parents who use the “insidious features” of social media as a weapon will put at risk their custody arrangements and settlements and could even face prison, legal experts warn.

In a federal court divorce case, Judge Warwick Neville has ordered that a marshal of the court investigate and monitor a father’s Facebook posts for possible infringements of the Family Law Act.

The Act prohibits the publication of details of court proceedings – an offence punishable by imprisonment for up to one year.

There are almost 50,000 divorces in Australia each year and about half of them involve a custody battle for children.

Judge Neville said social media was an “unfortunate and increasing feature of modern litigation”, particularly in family law.

“It is a veritable Aladdin’s cave which parties (and lawyers) readily and regularly explore for (invariably incriminating) evidence to be used in litigation,” he wrote. “As a weapon, it has particularly insidious features.”

Judge Neville said commentary on social media was often “very cowardly” because those who posted “derogatory, cruel and nasty comments (regularly peppered with disgusting language and equally vile photographs)” appear to feel immunity.

“They inhabit the cyber-sphere and operate as `Facebook rangers’ who `hit and run’ with their petty and malicious commentary, and seem to gloat (or be encouraged) by the online audience that waits to join the ghoulish, jeering crowd in the nether-world of cyber-space.”

In 2011, 48.3 per cent of the 48,935 divorces granted involved a custody dispute over children.

Social media expert Dr Melissa de Zwart said people were still learning how to use Facebook carefully.

“I think we might be careful about direct posts but not other things like commenting on posts of our friends that potentially aren’t as private,” she said.

“I think as we read more about people doing things and getting into trouble, I think we are becoming more careful and more judicious.”

Dr de Zwart said a study had found people usually thought of about six people when posting instead of all their Facebook friends.

“That’s why you will disclose things and forget that you’re actually friends with your ex’s cousin,” she said.

Judge Neville’s judgment, delivered recently in the Federal Circuit Court, said that in this particular case, the father’s family had posted comments that denigrated the court and the litigious process, as well as detailing and commenting critically on information regarding the proceedings.

The posts “bluntly” claimed the magistrate, the court and experts had been duped by the mother and that she regularly abused her children.

Tindall Gask Bentley partner and family-law specialist Jane Miller said social media was a common part of divorces.

“We see clients that either make poor decisions on what they publish on Facebook or those who routinely stalk their partner’s Facebook page,” she said.

Ms Miller said most users of the Family Court system did not appreciate the section of the Family Law Act that prohibits them from publishing details of the court proceedings.

She said the classic example of what could potentially breach the Family Law Act was people showing affidavits from the court proceedings to their friends and family.

Norman Waterhouse associate Emma Dodson said she warned clients about posting on Facebook when starting divorce proceedings.

“We had cases before we started this policy where clients have written things on their Facebook which weren’t favourable to their case,” she said.

Relationships Australia senior counsellor Margie von Doussa said she would advise divorcing couples to “unfriend” their former partners.

“For the short term, we need to absolutely not be connected on social media in any way,” she said.

Ms von Doussa said people did not want to read about their ex’s good day or the intimate details of their post-break-up life.

“People can’t suddenly go from being in a relationship to being great mates,” she said.

Upper house votes down voluntary euthanasia bill

legislative-council-chamberLegislation to allow voluntary euthanasia in New South Wales has been defeated in the state upper house.

The Rights of the Terminally Ill bill, which was introduced by Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann, would have let terminally ill people who still retain their decision making capacity request assistance to die.

The bill was defeated 23 votes to 13.

After an emotional debate, there was an outburst from the public gallery as it became apparent MPs were about to vote down the bill.

All sides were given a conscience vote on the issue, but no Coalition MP voted in favour of the bill, although some abstained.

Speaking just before the vote, Ms Faehrmann told Parliament it would be a massive missed opportunity if the bill was defeated.

“If this bill fails today, terminally ill people will continue to take their own lives violently if they can,” she said.

“Some doctors will continue to administer huge doses of morphine to patients in an attempt to end their suffering. Patients will starve and dehydrate themselves to death.

“People around this state will continue to scream out to their loved ones, to nurses, to doctors, to please end their suffering.”

Ms Faehrmann says the campaign for voluntary euthanasia will continue and the bill will be introduced to the lower house by her Greens colleague Jamie Parker and two Independent MPs.

Ex-wives Snare Lion Share of Farming Family Fortune

farming-soilTHE ex-wives of two brothers at the helm of a Queensland farming and mining company have snared the lion’s share of the family fortune after a legal showdown with one of their own children for the money.

The women have netted almost $2 million in the bitterly-fought property claim against their husbands and a son, who tried to secure a slice of the asset pool in the Family Court of Australia this month.

The feud has shone the spotlight on Australia’s rural marriage crisis with both long-standing marriages ending in November 2009 after the couples were together for 38 and 21 years respectively.

Concerns over the high rate of relationship breakdown in rural areas has prompted the Federal Government to reinstate a program it shelved for travelling counsellors to visit rural couples.

Queensland Rural Woman of the Year, Alison Fairleigh, said “romantic notions” of rural marriage were sadly evaporating under the stress of drought and spiralling farm debt.

“We are on the cusp of another very bad drought in western Queensland and you can only imagine the pressure it is placing on relationships,” Ms Fairleigh said.

Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner Marie Downing said a large number of mediation cases involved marriage breakdowns amongst resource-industry employees.

“A lot of it is related to the adjustment to isolation and working long shifts,” Mrs Downing said.

Ms Fairleigh said many break ups in farming areas were linked to a “drinking culture” and economic hardship brought on by years of financial difficulties.

She said a rising number of men were self-medicating with alcohol for depression, while their wives were forced to work full-time off the farm for financial survival.

‘When you separate in a rural marriage, often it is a case of people taking sides, so you can end up separated from your community,” Ms Fairleigh said.

“If there are succession arrangements, wives are left with very little. If not, she gets half of everything and he feels like he has let his family down.”

The son in the latest case lost his claim for a majority stake in the company he managed after the court found a promise to be “looked after” by his father and uncle too ambiguous.

Pensioners overlooked in budget

pensionersREDLAND City business and welfare groups said Treasurer Wayne Swan’s sixth budget failed the needy and those whose only income was a pension.

The budget included a $300 million package for those on Newstart, Parenting Payment, Widow, Sickness or Partner Allowance, which will come into effect in March.

The federal government was under pressure to increase the Newstart allowance base rate by $50.

Instead, the budget allowed dole recipients to work more hours and earn an extra $100 a fortnight before benefits are affected.

Single mothers will get an additional payment if they take up study and the education supplement will be extended to all single parents on Newstart.

Access to the pensioner concession card will also be increased.

Redland District Committee on the Ageing president Tony Christinson said pensioners had been overlooked.

“Pensioners don’t directly benefit from the budget’s big ticket items of the National Disability Insurance scheme, the National Broadband Network or the Gonski funding,” he said.

“Encouraging single parents to undertake more work is a catch 22 as they can’t afford to pay someone to mind their children while they work.

“No increases to the pension will leave some in the Redlands in a desperate situation even though inflation is fairly low.”

Star Transport operations manager Peter Mann said he did not believe any of the measures announced in Tuesday’s budget would affect the provision of his Redland-based service.

However, he said he would have liked more information about ongoing funding.

“We have too much demand for our service and have been told that there is no additional federal or state funding,” Mr Mann said.”Our typical client is a pensioner who rents and not increasing the pension will affect them but not our fares.”

Australian Council of Social Services CEO Cassandra Goldie said the changes were modest and people struggling to get a job would be disappointed.

Ms Goldie said previous budgets saved $700million shifting about 70,000 single parents whose youngest child had turned eight off Parenting Payments and on to the Newstart Allowance.

National Council of Single Mothers and their Children’s Therese Edwards said the budget “was only undoing some of the harm introduced on January 1” this year.

She said before the budget, sole parents could earn $31 a week before their payments were affected but in the previous 2011-2012 financial year they could earn at least $87 a week.

The Opposition backed the moves but called for more details.

The budget also slashed the public service, announcing $580 million from the sector but not disclosing the exact number of positions to go.

Baby bonus ‘scrapped’ in budget

babyThe baby bonus has been scrapped in the federal budget.

The Howard-era payment that provides $5000 for newborns will be replaced with a much lower payment.

This will see eligible families receive $2000 for a first child and $1000 for a second child.

Instead of the baby bonus, those eligible under Family Tax Benefit Part A will see their payments increase for the first three months after their child is born.

The Gillard government had already reined in spending on the baby bonus. Last October, it flagged that payments to second and subsequent children would be cut to $3000 from July 1.

Earlier on Tuesday, Fairfax Media reported that almost $100 billion in expenditure on education and disability insurance would be locked in for a decade as the Gillard government tries to insulate its reforms from future economic pressures and force the hand of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

The unprecedented move is designed to guarantee the survival of both signature reforms, quell doubts over their long-term funding and prevent cash-strapped governments from diverting resources to other areas.

The political manoeuvre is set to enrage the Coalition, which has already complained of ”booby traps” being laid in the budget.

The budget contains savings to limit this year’s deficit and plans to ensure dedicated funding streams for the Gonski education reforms and the national disability insurance scheme, DisabilityCare Australia.

Grandma, 85, given parenting rights in case that highlights growing trend in ‘grey-sitters’

grandparentsAN 85-year-old woman has been granted parenting rights over her granddaughter as courts take a tougher stand over denied access.

With a rising number of so-called “grey-sitters” left raising grandchildren, the Full Court of the Family Court of Australia has reaffirmed the notion of “parents and non-parents” having the same legal rights to children.

The appeal case involving access to a nine-year-old girl after her mother died of breast cancer in November 2010 follows another “heart-wrenching” decision to grant custody of a two-year-old boy to his paternal grandmother after his mother was deported last month.

And this week, a great-aunt was granted parenting rights over a little girl she had cared for since she was a baby.

Queensland Council of Grandparents president Maree Lubach said the rulings highlighted the push for courts to enforce “grandparent provisions” introduced to the Family Law Act.

The 2006 reforms uphold a child’s “fundamental right” to “spend time and communicate” with grandparents and other relatives on a regular basis.

Despite the changes, Ms Lubach said litigants were continuing to lose their homes and had sacrificed life savings to fund legal bills in excess of $20,000 in the quest to see their grandchildren.

“In a lot of cases, they have assets which exclude them from legal aid, so they have lost their homes ” Ms Lubach said.

She said the pressure of taking another family member to court took a huge emotional toll.

“It is very difficult for grandparents denied access because the attitude is ‘you must have done something wrong’,” Ms Lubach said.

“It is hard for them to open up that the threads of their family have been severed. Emotionally, it leaves an enormous scar and that trauma is shared by those raising their grandchildren.

“Grandparents often step in voluntarily or are asked to raise the children for a while. They form bonds and then the children react to being expected to start bonding with parents they were alienated from.

“Unfortunately, a lot of grandparents simply don’t realise they can get access.”

Leading family lawyer Dan Bottrell urged grandparents to pursue access even in difficult circumstances.

“Just being the biological parent doesn’t give you the preferential treatment,” Mr Bottrell said.

“The court’s role is to consider the best interest of the child.”

A Family Court of Australia spokesman said existing relationships between the parents and grandparents were often “critical factors” for judges.

“It is not necessarily good for the child . . . if the grandparent denigrates or criticises a parent (and) unfortunately this is something that does happen,” the spokesman said.

“Children of separated parents are usually already splitting their time between parents. Ultimately, it is what is in the best interests of the child.”

Prove vaccinations or no enrolment

267792-immunisationPARENTS will face tough new hurdles if they want to enroll unvaccinated children at school, under a crackdown being planned by Health Minister Tanya Plibersek.

Responding to The Sunday Telegraph and The Daily Telegraph’s campaign to improve childhood immunisation rates, Ms Plibersek said it was time for a “rigorous” national policy to identify children who had slipped through the immunisation net when they started school.

She has asked the states to introduce standardised procedures that will make it mandatory for parents to produce the official Australian Childhood Immunisation Register record to prove their children have been fully immunised when they enrol them at school.

And parents may have to document why a child is unvaccinated if the record shows the student has not completed the government’s free childhood immunisation program.

The latest immunisation data from the National Health Performance Authority shows five year olds have the lowest immunisation rates of any children.

“I am proposing we introduce a rigorous nationally consistent policy for schools to assess and document immunisation for all new enrolments as a way of identifying children who have slipped through the immunisation net or have not yet met the immunisation milestones,” the minister said.

“Ensuring accurate records are available at schools will assist in promoting immunisation of children and improving the control of spread of vaccine preventable diseases by excluding children from school during an outbreak if they are not immunised,” Ms Plibersek said.

She said Western Australia, NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT have school entry legislation for immunisation but, other than in Western Australia, “the laws are not usually enforced”.

The minister is also asking her department to investigate the national roll out of a “booster pack” which would include an illustrated book and pamphlet on immunisation that would be sent to parents of four year olds.

A similar pack used in South Australia to remind parents about the two vaccinations that are given to four year olds has seen immunisation rates among five year olds in that state increase from 88.8% to 91.1% since the middle of last year.

Immunisation experts and the Australian Medical Association have been calling for governments to increase the hassle factor for parents who have failed to properly immunise their children.

Australian Medical Association president Dr Steve Hambleton said he fully supported the school enrolment crackdown.

“It means parents will now have to make an active decision to refuse vaccination,” he said.

“I congratulate the minister on her leadership and challenge the state ministers to match it,” he said.

The World Health Organisation says immunisation rates higher than 93 per cent are required to stop the spread of killer diseases like whooping cough and measles.

But in some areas around the country, less than 85 per cent of five year olds are fully immunised.

The minister wrote to all state health ministers yesterday to tell them she would be including an item on increasing vaccination rates among school children at the health ministers meeting due mid year.