For the First Time Accounting for the COVID-19 Pandemic, Latest Australian Bureau of Statistics Data Reveals Queensland as the Divorce Capital of Australia.
Newly published figures indicate that in 2021, there were 56,244 divorces granted, representing a 13.6% increase from the previous year. However, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has cautioned against interpreting this large rise too hastily, as it may be partly attributed to the clearing of a backlog of applications in the courts. Nonetheless, this figure marks an increase of around 6,500 to 7,000 from recent years.
Although the number of divorces granted in 2021 is about 6,500 to 7,000 higher than in recent years, the ABS has advised caution in interpreting this figure due to the backlog of applications that have been cleared by the courts. Notably, the largest increase in divorces was observed in New South Wales, with 17,126 divorces granted in 2021, compared to 14,023 in 2020 and 14,197 in 2019. Meanwhile, Queensland retains its title as the state with the highest crude divorce rate in the nation, with the gap between Queensland and other states growing even wider.
Queensland had the highest crude divorce rate in Australia with 2.6 divorces granted per 1,000 people, followed by Western Australia at 2.2, which is the national average, and 2.1 in New South Wales and South Australia. Notably, the divorce rate in Queensland increased from 2.3 in 2020 and 2019, which were already significantly higher than the national averages.
Here are the key points:
In 2021, 56,244 divorces were granted in Australia, which is higher than 2020’s 49,510 and 2019’s 48,582.
The crude divorce rate for 2021 averaged 2.2 divorces per 1,000 people, but it rose to 2.6 in Queensland.
The number of divorces in 2021 is the highest since 2011 and 2012.
The Dual Waves of Separation
According to family mediator Stacey Turner, two distinct trends have surfaced during the pandemic: the first wave happened during the initial lockdowns in 2020, and the second wave occurred at a later time.
When the pandemic first arrived in Australia, Turner’s clients were eager to move on quickly as they realized the fragility of life, having previously been indecisive. Typically, a mediation process pre-COVID would take four to six weeks, but Turner observed that the pandemic resulted in a reduction in the process duration by a few weeks. She stated that she had to mediate virtually day and night.
Ms. Turner noted that during the pandemic, people were working together more collaboratively to resolve their issues than she had observed before. However, she stated that there was a “second wave” of separation that occurred after the lockdown.
According to Ms. Turner, individuals going through separation in the post-lockdown period were dealing with more mental health issues, and the economic implications were severe, particularly due to the rental crisis and changes in employment circumstances. She stated that the combination of these issues with an already failing relationship created an almost perfect storm and also suggested that the interstate migration could be a contributing factor to the higher number of divorces in Queensland, as it is currently the most popular state to move to. She stated that moving away from family connections and friendship groups could have a significant impact that people tend to underestimate. She also added that sometimes people move with the hope that it will improve their relationship, but it doesn’t always translate to a better outcome, particularly when the relationship is already struggling.
Time Constraints Faced by Women in Queensland
Professor Janeen Baxter, a sociologist and the director of the Life Course Centre at the University of Queensland, has been analyzing the Australian government’s Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) reports, which surveys around 13,000 households each year as part of her research. According to Professor Baxter, Queensland’s divorce rate may have risen due to the fact that women in Queensland reported more time pressure and stress compared to other states in the 2021 HILDA report. While the cause of this increase cannot be attributed solely to COVID, as there were also bushfires and floods during this period, there was a noticeable rise in time pressure and stress levels for women in Queensland in 2021 that was not seen in other states.
According to the ABS data, the divorce rate in Australia in 2021 has returned to the same level as that recorded in 2011 and 2012, following the global financial crisis. Professor Baxter, who analyzed the HILDA reports, said that when looking at divorce data over the last 120 years, higher rates of divorce were observed during the depression in the 1930s, WWI and WWII, and lower rates when the world was not experiencing war or major recession. She also noted that these broader societal factors have an impact on what happens within households at the micro level.
Both Professor Baxter and Ms Turner shared a similar view that the ABS data may not accurately represent the full extent of relationship breakdowns, including separations.
Since divorces are usually granted only after a period of 12 months or more of separation, the 2021 data would only account for the first eight months of the pandemic in Australia. Hence, any relationship breakdowns that occurred during the pandemic may not be reflected in changes to the divorce rate for some years to come.
According to ABS health and vital statistics director James Eynstone-Hinkins, all states and territories except the Australian Capital Territory reported a rise in the number of granted divorces in comparison to 2020. He added that the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia informed them that the increase in divorces was partially due to administrative changes that led to more finalizations last year. Eynstone-Hinkins clarified that most of the divorces granted in 2021 were the result of separations that happened before the pandemic.