4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1999  
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Contents >> Family >> Family Formation: Remarriage trends of divorced people

Family Formation: Remarriage trends of divorced people

Of all marriages in 1997, 33% involved a person who had previously been married. This proportion was up from 14% in 1967.

Currently, almost one third of registered marriages celebrated in Australia involve at least one previously divorced partner. This is a consequence of the increase in divorces over the past few decades, which has resulted in more divorced people in the population (see Australian Social Trends 1995, Trends in marriage and divorce). Among people who were aged 20 years or over in 1997 and not married, 19% had been divorced compared to 10% in 1976.

The remarriage of divorced people represents an important form of family formation: one that can often create complex family interactions. Previously-divorced partners may still have responsibilities from their earlier marriage, such as the care or maintenance of children. A remarriage may affect other family relationships, such as that between grandparents and grandchildren. Of course, divorced people may choose to enter into a de facto partnership rather than formally remarry. However, these partnerships are not discussed in this review because there is no available data to support this analysis.


In this review, marriages are limited to registered marriages carried out in accordance with the Australian Marriage Act 1961. Marriage registration forms are collected by the State and Territory Registrars of Births, Deaths and Marriages and collated into a national data set by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This information is published annually in Marriages and Divorces, Australia (cat. no. 3310.0). Although de facto partnerships are often included with registered marriage to form a category of social marriage, the lack of regular information on the formation and dissolution of de facto partnerships precludes their inclusion in this review.

Information on the length of remarriages is available only up to the year 1994 because the previous marital status of each partner of a divorcing couple is no longer collected by the Family Court of Australia.

This review excludes a relatively small number of remarriages that involved a divorced person and a widowed person.

The introduction of the Family Law Act 1975, which came into operation in January 1976, gave rise to a large increase in the crude divorce rate in 1976. By 1979, once the backlog of applications was cleared, the divorce rate dropped and stabilised, but at a higher level than that which had occurred prior to the introduction of the Act.

An increasing proportion of remarriages
Remarriages represented 33% of marriages in 1997, increasing from 14% in 1967. Of marriages celebrated in 1997, 67% were couples who had both never married before; 12% were couples who were both previously divorced; 10% were celebrated by couples in which the bridegroom had previously been divorced and the bride had never previously married; 8% were couples in which the bridegroom had never previously married and the bride had previously been divorced; and 4% involved a widowed partner.

Although the large majority of remarriages of divorced people in 1997 were second marriages, 13% of bridegrooms and brides were marrying for the third time, and a further 1%, the fourth time.

Source: Marriages and Divorces, Australia, 1997 (cat. no. 3310.0).

Remarriage rates for divorcees
Remarriage rates for divorcees express the proportion of divorcees in a particular age group that remarried in that year. For example, in 1997 the overall remarriage rate for divorced men was 54 marriages for every 1,000 divorced men in the population while that for divorced women was 41 marriages for every 1,000 divorced women in the population.

The highest remarriage rates for divorced people were 111 per 1,000 among men aged 30-34 and 122 per 1,000 among women aged 25-29. These rates represent a considerable decline in remarriage rates from those prevalent in 1976 when the highest rate for men was 353 per 1,000 among those aged 25-29 and the highest rate for women was 326 per 1,000 among women aged 20-24. However, since a large number of divorces were granted soon after the introduction of the Family Law Act in January 1976, remarriage rates for 1976 were particularly high. A large proportion of the decline in remarriage rates, indicating fewer people choosing to marry, can be attributed to the growth in de facto partnering. More couples are choosing a de facto relationship in preference to registered marriage or as a prelude to marriage (in 1997, about 78% of marriages involving partners who were both previously divorced were preceded by a period of cohabitation1). The same explanation probably underlies the similar decline in marriage rates for first marriages.

(a) The number of men or women remarrying per 1,000 divorced of either sex.

Source: Marriages and Divorces, Australia, 1997 (cat. no. 3310.0).

Age at remarriage
Over the past 30 years, the median age of remarriage declined to 36 and 32 respectively for remarrying bridegrooms and brides in 1977, before steadily rising to the ages of 42 and 38 years in 1997.

The age at which people remarry is dependent on the age at which they first married, the length of their first marriage and the intervals between their separation, divorce, and remarriage. Of these factors, the age at first marriage is the main influence on the age at remarriage, the other factors have been more stable. The median age at first marriage has been increasing since the mid 1970s: for bridegrooms it increased from 23.3 years to 27.8 years between 1974 and 1997, and for brides from 20.9 years to 25.9 years (see Australian Social Trends 1997, Age at first marriage). Among people who divorced for the first time in 1994, the median duration of marriage until final separation was 9 years, the same as that experienced by people who divorced in 1987, and only one year longer than that experienced by couples who divorced in 1977. For couples divorcing in 1997, the median interval between separation and divorce was 3 years while the median interval between divorce and remarriage for people remarrying in 1997 was also about 3 years. These intervals have only increased slightly from those experienced ten years ago.

The difference in age distributions between 1977 and 1997 of remarrying brides and bridegrooms further illustrates the shift towards older ages for remarrying. In 1977, the most common age group for previously divorced brides was 25-29 years and for previously divorced bridegrooms, 30-34 years. In 1997, the most common age groups had moved up to 30-34 years for brides and 35-39 years for bridegrooms.

(a) At date of remarriage.

Source: Marriages and Divorces, Australia, 1997 (cat. no. 3310.0).

Differences in age between brides and grooms
Among first marriages in 1997, the bridegroom was on average older than the bride by about two years, although the move towards an increasing proportion of bridegrooms marrying older brides continued (see Australian Social Trends 1997, Age at first marriage). Among remarriages, the difference between bridegrooms and brides was on average about four years. However, the age differences seem to be related to whether both or only one partner is divorced.

When both the bridegroom and the bride were remarrying after divorce, the bridegroom was likely to be older than the bride (69% were older): most commonly about 1-4 years older than the bride. When the bridegroom was divorced, and his bride had not been married before, the bridegroom was even more likely to be older than the bride (87% were older): most commonly about 4-7 years older.

However, when the bridegroom had not been married before, but his bride was previously divorced, the bridegroom was more likely to be younger than the bride (53% were younger): most commonly up to one year younger. These patterns seem to be fairly stable since the distributions of age difference between partners in remarriages celebrated in 1977 were very similar.

Source: Unpublished data, Marriages and Divorces, Australia.

Source: Unpublished data, Marriages and Divorces, Australia, 1997.

Length of remarriages
The act of remarriage could be taken to reaffirm a commitment to lifelong partnership despite the experience of marriage breakdown. However, the reality is that couples that were previously divorced are slightly more likely to divorce than those who had not been previously married2.

Information on the length of remarriages that ended recently is not available because the previous marital status of divorcing couples is no longer recorded. However, divorce data from the last year of availability, 1994, can be used to show the differences between the lengths of first marriages and remarriages among people who had been divorced.

Of the divorces made absolute in 1994, those made between couples who had both been in their first marriage had had a median marriage length until separation of nine years. Couples who had both been divorced previously had had a shorter median length of marriage until separation of five years.3

Children and remarriages
Partners entering into a remarriage provide some information about dependent children from their previous marriage on the registration form. Since this information is asked only of previously married people, information on children from de facto relationships is not available.

The information supplied on the marriage registration forms of previously divorced people remarrying in 1997 indicates that about 40% of brides and 39% of bridegrooms had children under 16 from their previous marriage. However, this information does not indicate that these people had responsibility for the day-to-day care of these children.


Children under 16 from previous marriage

No children
Had children

Number of children(b)

(a) Includes not stated.
(b) Children of bridegrooms and brides should not be added since double counting is possible if a divorced couple with children remarried in the same year.

Source: Marriages and Divorces, Australia, 1997 (cat. no. 3310.0)


1 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1997, Marriages and Divorces, Australia, unpublished data.

2 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1995, How many marriages end in divorce? in Marriages and Divorces, Australia, 1994, cat. no. 3310.0, ABS, Canberra.

3 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1994, Marriages and Divorces, Australia, unpublished data.

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