The divorce rate has continued to fall since reaching a high in 2001, dipping 2 per cent last year to 51,375. But despite the year-to-year decrease in divorces, a third of relationships are still set to fail.
The figures, released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics yesterday, probably reflect that marriages last longer than they did 10 years ago: the average was 8.9 years, up from 7.6 years in 1996. The number of divorces is expected to catch up as these longer marriages eventually end.
“Maybe there is a bit of a lag effect,” the chief executive of Relationships Australia NSW, Anne Hollonds, said. “We might be in the phase where there’s a bit of a blip. I don’t think there is some societal trend away from divorce; it’s more a plateau, with marriages lasting longer.”
People growing up since the no-fault divorces of the 1970s were also more inclined to seek help and less inclined to rush into marriage, Ms Hollonds said.
Women aged 25-29 were most at risk of divorce, with twice as many relationships failing in this bracket. But the median age of divorce continued to climb – people usually reaching their 40s before separating.
While Australia had a similar divorce rate to other Western countries, the manager of the Health and Vitals Unit at the bureau that prepared the report, Shell McConville, said there was a positive shift towards joint applications for divorce.
“It means people are doing it in a more sensible manner,” she said. “People are divorcing together rather than divorcing each other.”
The Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, agreed the decline was not linked to a government scheme aimed at holding families together, with free and mandatory counselling still not in full effect.