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Marriages and Divorces, Australia methodology

Reference period
2020

Introduction

This publication contains statistics on marriages that were registered, and divorces that were granted, in Australia.

From 2008, data for marriages and divorces have been published in Marriages and Divorces, Australia. Prior to this data were published as follows:

  • for marriages for 2003-2007 data were published in Marriages, Australia
  • for divorces for 2002-2007 data were published in Divorces, Australia
  • up to and including 2002, data were published in the combined Marriages and Divorces, Australia publication.

Publications up to 2002 and from 2008 can can be accessed by selecting 'View all releases' in the header of the publication.

If information is not available from the publication or data cubes, then the ABS may also have other relevant data available on request. For inquiries about these and related statistics, contact the Customer Assistance Service via the ABS website Contact Us page. The ABS Privacy Policy outlines how the ABS will handle any personal information that you provide to us.

Marriages and divorces legislation

Marriages

The Marriage Act 1961 came into full operation on 1 September 1961. Under the Act, marriages may be celebrated by a minister of religion registered as an authorised celebrant, by a district registrar or by other persons authorised by the Attorney-General. Notice of the intended marriage must be given to the celebrant at least one month, and not more than 18 months, before the marriage. Under certain circumstances, the time can be shortened. A celebrant must lodge an official certificate of the marriage for registration to a district registrar in the state or territory in which the marriage took place within 14 days.

The minimum age at which persons are legally free to marry is 18 years. Persons between the age of 16 years and 18 years may marry with parental or guardian consent and an order from a judge or magistrate. Any two persons under the age of 18 years may not marry each other.

Amendments to the Marriage Act 1961 came into effect on 9 December 2017 to reflect that marriage in Australia is no longer determined by sex or gender. The Notice of Intended Marriage (NOIM) form has been updated to reflect these changes. 

Divorces

Under the Family Law Act 1975, the irretrievable breakdown of marriage is the only basis on which a divorce is granted. This ground is established by the couple having lived apart for 12 months or more, and there being no reasonable likelihood of reconciliation. Applications for nullity of a marriage under Family Law legislation must be on the grounds that the marriage is void because of failure to meet a legal requirement such as that neither party is already lawfully married to another person. There is no provision for judicial separation under Family Law legislation.

Successful applicants for a divorce under Family Law in Australia are initially granted a decree nisi, which is a court order stating the date a marriage will end unless good reason is produced not to grant the divorce. This becomes absolute after one month unless it is rescinded, appealed against, or the court has not declared its satisfaction that proper arrangements have been made for the welfare of children involved.

Following amendments to the Marriage Act 1961 in late 2017, couples can now access the Australian divorce system regardless of the sex or gender of the parties involved. Same-sex divorces are included in the counts of all divorces presented in the data tables.

Data sources

Marriages

The registration of marriages is the responsibility of individual state and territory Registrars of Births, Deaths and Marriages. This information is provided to the ABS by individual Registrars for coding and compilation into aggregate statistics shown in this publication.

Divorces

Divorce statistics are compiled by the ABS from information supplied by the Family Court of Australia. The Family Court of Australia provides combined data from each Court Registry as well as the Federal Magistrates Court, the Family Court of Western Australia and the Family Court of Australia. Since 2005, the Family Court of Australia has provided data to the ABS in aggregated format.

Acknowledgements

This publication draws extensively on information provided freely by the state and territory Registrars of Births, Deaths and Marriages, and the Family Court of Australia. Their continued cooperation is very much appreciated: without it, the wide range of vitals statistics published by the ABS would not be available. Information received by the ABS is treated in strict confidence as required by the Census and Statistics Act 1905.

Scope and coverage

Scope of marriage statistics

The scope of the collection is all marriages registered by the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages in each Australian state and territory.

The scope of marriages for each reference year includes:

  • marriages registered in the calendar year and received by the ABS in the calendar year or by the end of January of the following year
  • marriages registered in the years prior to the calendar year but not received by the ABS until the calendar year or by the end of January of the following year, provided that these marriages have not been included in any statistics from an earlier period.

Marriages registered on Norfolk Island since 1 July 2016 are included in this publication. This is due to the introduction of the Norfolk Island Legislation Amendment Act 2015. Norfolk Island registered marriages are included in statistics for New South Wales and in Australian national totals. Marriages registered on Norfolk Island prior to 1 July 2016 were not in scope for Australian marriage statistics.

Marriages of overseas residents visiting Australia are included in these statistics. Marriages of Australian residents that take place overseas are not included in these statistics.

Coverage of marriage statistics

Coverage of marriage statistics in Australia is considered complete as all marriages that take place in Australia are recorded as legal events.

Ideally, for compiling annual time series, the number of marriages should be recorded and reported as those which occurred within a given reference period, such as a calendar year. However, there can be delays in the registration of marriages with the state or territory registries and so not all marriages are registered in the year that they occur. There may also be further delays to the ABS receiving notification of the marriage from the registries due to processing or data transfer lags. Therefore, every marriage record will have a date on which:

  • the marriage is celebrated (the date of occurrence)
  • the marriage is registered with the state and territory registry (date of registration)
  • the registered marriage is lodged with the ABS and deemed in scope.

With the exception of the statistics published by Year of Occurrence, data in this publication are presented by date of registration unless otherwise stated.

Scope and coverage of divorce statistics

The scope of the collection is all divorces granted (decree made absolute) in Australia.

Coverage of divorce statistics in Australia is considered complete as all divorces granted are recorded legal decisions.

Divorce statistics presented in this publication relate to divorces granted in a calendar year. In the interpretation of data it is important to bear in mind that the availability of judges and the complexity of the cases brought before them can affect the number of decrees made absolute (or divorces granted) in any one year. Numbers in any given year may be influenced by a backlog, or the clearing of a backlog, of cases from an earlier period. A small proportion of divorces are granted several years after application.

Any reference to separations in this publication refers only to separations which have led to a divorce. Data referencing separations should not be considered representative of all separations in Australia. 

Classifications

A range of socio-demographic data is available from the marriages and divorces collection. Data items in this publication are based on standard ABS classifications. For some data items, small modifications have been made to these classifications to better align with how the data has been captured at the administrative source, and to enhance the value of the information collected. The classifications used, and any modifications, are detailed below.

Previous marital status

Data on previous marital status within this publication relate to registered marital status. For marriages data, previous marital status includes 'never married', 'widowed' and 'divorced', and excludes those 'separated' and 'married' (as persons who are not legally divorced cannot legally marry in Australia and are therefore out of scope). For further information about Registered Marital Status refer to Family, Household and Income Unit Variables.

Marriage celebrant

In this publication, the Australian Statistical Classification of Religious Groups (ASCRG) is used to determine the type of marriage celebrant administering the wedding ceremony - whether a minister of religion or a civil celebrant. Small amendments have been made to the ASCRG when processing marriages, in order to capture civil marriages for the marriage celebrant data item. The Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups, 2016 was released in July 2016 and has been used for classifying marriage rites for 2017 onwards. Marriage rites from 2006 to 2016 were originally classified according to the Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups (ASCRG), 2005. A concordance has been created between the 2005 and 2016 classification codes to ensure continuity of time series. From 1996 to the 2005 collection, marriage rites were classified according to the Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups (ASCRG), 1996. Prior to 1996, marriage rites were coded according to a non-standard classification developed within the ABS.

Sex

Amendments were made to the Marriage Act 1961 in December 2017 allowing marriage in Australia to no longer be determined by sex or gender. The Notice of Intended Marriage (NOIM) was updated to collect sex of the marrying couple with three options: ‘Male’, ‘Female’ and ‘X’ (where 'X' refers to indeterminate, intersex or unspecified). Further amendments to the NOIM were implemented in September 2021 and will be considered in reporting 2021 data.

Registered marriages for which both partners identified as female are referred to in ABS marriages statistics as female same-sex marriages, and marriages for which both partners identified as male are described as male same-sex marriages. Registered marriages where one or both persons have not identified as either male or female are not included in counts of same-sex marriages or data presented by sex, and have not been tabulated separately for confidentiality reasons. These marriages are included in counts of total registered marriages.

Country of birth

ABS marriage statistics are coded using the Standard Australian Classification of Countries (SACC), 2016 when presenting data on country of birth, and relative birthplace. 

Considerations when interpreting data

Revision of 2018 and 2019 divorces data

Investigation into divorces data has identified that 2018 and 2019 data was previously published on a financial year basis rather than calendar year. At the national level, the number of divorces granted for 2018 had been under reported by 270 divorces (0.5% fewer) and for 2019 over reported by 534 divorces (1.1% more). In the 2020 divorces data cube, a number of 2018 and 2019 tables have been republished and revised time series data has been included where appropriate. It is recommended that data users refer to the 2018 and 2019 divorces data from this publication rather than previously published data. Data for years prior to 2018 were based on calendar year and have not been revised.

Legalisation of same-sex marriage

On 9 December 2017, amendments to the Marriage Act 1961 came into effect and marriage in Australia was no longer determined by sex or gender. These amendments enabled same-sex couples to legally marry in Australia. The introduction of same-sex marriage should be considered when comparing data since 2018 with data for previous years. 

There are a very small number of same-sex marriages included in the published marriage counts for 2017. For confidentiality reasons, these same-sex marriages have not been identified separately in output. As a result, where data for 2017 are presented by sex, a very small number of females will appear in data for males, and vice versa.

Following the amendments to the Marriage Act 1961, the Notice of Intended Marriage (NOIM) form was updated to allow for three options for reporting the sex of the marrying couple: ‘Male’, ‘Female’ and ‘X’ (where 'X' refers to indeterminate, intersex or unspecified). There have only been a small number of registered marriages for which one or both parties selected 'X' on the marriage notice. These marriages are included in counts of total registered marriages, but are not included in counts of same-sex marriages. Persons who selected 'X' on the NOIM, are also not presented in data broken down by sex. These data have not been tabulated separately for confidentiality reasons.

There are a small number of same-sex divorces included in the published divorce counts for 2020. Apart from total figures, it is not currently possible to identify couples as same-sex in the source data as they are supplied to the ABS. As a result, where data are presented by sex, a very small number of females will appear in data for males, and vice versa.

State and territory considerations - Marriages

Marriage statistics are based on the state or territory in which the marriages are registered, rather than the state or territory of usual residence of the couple. This needs to be considered when interpreting or comparing state and territory data. People who usually reside in one jurisdiction may choose to marry in a different jurisdiction. Overseas residents who marry while visiting Australia are included in marriage statistics by the state or territory in which their marriage is registered. Marriages that occur in the other Australian territories of Christmas Island, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Jervis Bay Territory are registered in the nearest state or territory. Norfolk Island registered marriages are included in statistics for New South Wales. All data for Other Territories are included in Australia totals.

There are a range of administrative factors that can affect the processing of marriage registrations in a given year. These factors are often jurisdiction specific and can impact on the timeliness of marriages being registered and delay provision of data to the ABS. In recent years, several jurisdictional Registries of Births, Deaths and Marriages have undertaken large-scale digitisation and system redevelopment works which have impacted the processing of registrations.

State and territory considerations - Divorces

Divorce applications can be electronically submitted from anywhere in the world. The divorce hearings are conducted at selected locations/cities, and parties do not need to attend the divorce hearing; however, they must provide the necessary documentation and evidence before a divorce is granted.

The divorce hearing may occur in a state or territory other than the one in which the applicant/s usually reside. Due to the large number of divorces granted in the Australian Capital Territory to usual residents of other states and territories, the crude divorce rate and age-specific divorce rates of the ACT are not representative and are not presented in this publication.

Divorces of persons usually resident in Other Territories are registered in the nearest state or territory. For example, divorces of residents of Jervis Bay would generally be registered in New South Wales. Divorces registered on Norfolk Island are also included in statistics for New South Wales.

Confidentiality

Marriages

To minimise the risk of identifying individuals in aggregate statistics, a technique called perturbation is applied. Perturbation involves small random adjustment of the statistics and is applied to cell values, including totals. This is considered the most satisfactory technique for avoiding the release of identifiable statistics while maximising the range of information that can be released. These adjustments have a negligible impact on the underlying pattern of the statistics.

As a result of perturbation, components will not necessarily sum to the published total. As such, proportions may add to more or less than 100%. Where a proportion in any given cell is more than 100%, data appears as 'np' (not publishable). Readers are advised to use the published totals rather than deriving totals based on the component cells. Following the introduction of same-sex marriages, the perturbation method that has been applied may result in the same cell value differing slightly across tables.

Perturbation has been applied to 2014 marriages data onwards. Prior to this, small cells were suppressed or randomised to avoid the disclosure of potentially identifiable information.

Divorces

Since 2005, all divorce processing has been completed by the Family Court of Australia rather than the ABS. Divorce data are provided to the ABS in aggregate format. Perturbation is not applied to divorce data. To ensure confidentiality, cells with small values are suppressed, and are presented in tables as 'np' or not publishable data. Where a cell has been suppressed, the corresponding rate is also not published.

Rates and rounding

Use of rates

Both crude and age-specific marriage and divorce rates are presented in this publication. Crude marriage and divorce rates reflect the number of people who marry or divorce within a specified reference year per 1,000 estimated resident population, as at 30 June of that year. Similarly, age-specific marriage and divorce rates reflect the number of people in a particular age group who marry or divorce within a specified reference year, per 1,000 estimated resident population in the same age group (as at 30 June).

When calculating age-specific divorce rates, there are a small number of persons aged under 16 years included in divorces data who were legally married overseas. Owing to the small numbers involved, these divorced persons are included in the 16-24 year age group when calculating rates, and the corresponding population denominator includes those aged 16-24 years.

For divorces, age-specific divorce rates are additionally presented per 1,000 married population, to offer a more accurate representation of divorce rates, as they provide an indication of the proportion of married people of a certain age who are granted divorce in a specific year. These data are only produced for years in which the Census of Population and Housing is conducted, as marital status of the Australian population is only available from the Census. In the Census, all people aged under 15 years are assumed not to be married. Consequently, these people are excluded from the married population.

In this publication, crude and age-specific marriage and divorce rates have been calculated using preliminary Estimated Resident Population (ERP) figures as at 30 June for the relevant year. Care should be taken when interpreting marriage and divorce rates by jurisdiction, as these counts are based on the state or territory in which the marriage or divorce was registered, rather than the jurisdiction of usual residence. ERP is based on the jurisdiction of usual residence.

Due to the large number of divorces granted in the Australian Capital Territory to usual residents of other states and territories, the crude divorce rate and age-specific divorce rates of the ACT are not representative and are not presented in this publication.

Effects of rounding

Where figures have been rounded, discrepancies may occur between totals and sums of the component items.

Glossary

Show all

Age-specific divorce rates

Age-specific divorce rates are presented in this publication using two different methods of calculation:

  • Per 1,000 population. This presents the number of divorces recorded in the calendar year for a particular age group (by age at decree made absolute), per 1,000 estimated resident population of the same age, at 30 June of the same year.
  • Per 1,000 married population. This presents the number of divorces recorded in a calendar year for a particular age group (by age at decree made absolute) per 1,000 married population of the same age at 30 June. Population by marital status is only available from the Census of Population and Housing, conducted every five years and so divorces granted per married population can only be calculated for Census years.
     

Age-specific marriage rates

Age-specific marriage rates reflect the number of marriages registered during the calendar year at a specified age per 1,000 estimated resident population of the same age, at the mid-point of the year (30 June).

Applicant for divorce

The applicant is the person applying for a divorce. Applications for divorce may be made by either party of the marriage individually, or as a joint application.

Children in the divorce

Children in the divorce collection are defined as unmarried children of the marriage who were aged under 18 years at the time of application for divorce. Under the Family Law Act 1975 these may include adopted and ex-nuptial children and children from a former marriage. Children who are either married or aged 18 years or over are not subject to custody and guardianship orders and are therefore excluded.

Crude divorce and marriage rates

The crude marriage/divorce rate is the number of marriages registered/divorces granted during the calendar year per 1,000 estimated resident population at 30 June of the respective reference year. In the interpretation of this rate, it must be kept in mind that a large and varying proportion of the population used in the denominator is below the minimum age of marriage or is already married/divorced.

Date of divorce (date divorce granted)

Date on which decree nisi is made absolute (final) and the marriage is dissolved.

Date of separation

The date of separation is the date, given on the application for divorce, from which the period of living apart is calculated for the purpose of establishing grounds for a divorce. In determining the date of separation, a single period of resumed cohabitation of less than three months may be ignored, provided the periods of living apart before and after resumed cohabitation amount to a total of 12 months or more.

Decree made absolute

Once the Court is satisfied that a 12 month separation period has passed and proper arrangements have been made for any children, it will grant a decree nisi.

The decree nisi automatically becomes absolute (final) one month later and is sent to the parties in the mail. Technically the parties are still married until the order becomes absolute, and they cannot remarry until then. This waiting period can be shortened in cases of urgency or hardship.

The court may rescind the decree nisi before it becomes absolute if the parties have become reconciled or if the court is satisfied that there has been a miscarriage of justice. Otherwise, the marriage is dissolved when the decree becomes absolute, and either party may marry again.

Estimated Resident Population (ERP)

The official measure of the population of Australia is based on the concept of residence. It refers to all people, regardless of nationality or citizenship, who usually live in Australia, with the exception of foreign diplomatic personnel and their families. It includes usual residents who are overseas for fewer than 12 months over a 16-month period and excludes those who are in Australia for fewer than 12 months over a 16-month period.

Length of marriage to divorce

Length of marriage to divorce is the interval measured in completed years between the date of marriage and the date of divorce.

Length of marriage to separation

Length of marriage to separation is the interval measured in completed years between the date of marriage and the date of separation.

Marital status

Registered marital status is a person's relationship status in terms of whether they have, or have had, a registered marriage with another person. Accordingly, people are classified as either 'never married', 'married', 'widowed' or 'divorced'.

Social marital status, which refers to relationship status of an individual with reference to another person who is resident in the household, is not included in this collection.

Marriage

Marriage refers to registered marriages only. Under the Marriage Act 1961 (Commonwealth), a marriage may be celebrated by a minister of religion registered as an authorised celebrant, by a district registrar or by other persons authorised by the attorneys-general. Notice of the intended marriage must be given to the celebrant at least one calendar month but within 18 calendar months before the marriage. There are circumstances when the parties may be granted permission to shorten the required time for notice to be given, see Subsection 42(5) of the Australian Marriage Act 1961 and Regulation 39 of the Marriage Regulations 1963 and schedule 1B to the Regulations. A celebrant must submit an official certificate of the marriage for registration in the state or territory in which the marriage took place within 14 days.

Marriage celebrant

A person authorised by the Australian Government to legally marry a couple according to the Marriage Act 1961. The celebrant may represent a religious organisation (referred to in this publication as a minister of religion) or may provide a non-religious marriage ceremony (referred to as a civil celebrant). Only registered marriage celebrants can legally marry couples in Australia.

Median value

For any distribution, the median value (e.g. age, length, interval) is that value which divides the relevant population into two equal parts, half falling below the value and half exceeding it. Where the value for a particular record has not been stated, that record is excluded from the calculation.

Reference year

Reference year is the year that data presented in this publication refers to (unless otherwise specified). For example, this publication presents data for the 2020 reference year, as well as some historical data for previous years. For marriages, data for a particular reference year includes all marriages registered in Australia in a calendar year that are received by the ABS in the same calendar year or by the end of January of the following year. For example, data for the 2020 reference year includes all marriages registered in Australia in 2020 that were received by the ABS in 2020 or by the end of January 2021. For divorces, data for the 2020 reference year includes all divorces granted (decree made absolute) in 2020 as provided to the ABS by the Family Court of Australia. See 'Scope and Coverage' in Methodology for further information.

Registration year

Registration year refers to the year in which the marriage was registered with the relevant state or territory Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, or the year in which the divorce was granted (decree made absolute). Due to delays in the ABS receiving notification of the marriage from registries (as a result of processing or data transfer lags), the registration year may be different to the reference year. See 'Scope and Coverage' in Methodology for further information.

Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages

Each state and territory has a Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. A celebrant must lodge an official certificate of the marriage for registration to a district registrar in the state or territory in which the marriage took place within 14 days.

Relative country of birth

The country of birth of a person within a couple (either married or divorced) in relation to the other person in that couple. Options for relative country of birth are: both born in Australia; both born in the same overseas country; or born in different countries (which may include one person being born in Australia).

Remarriage

Remarriage refers to those whose previous marital status was widowed or divorced. 

Same-sex divorce

The divorce of a legally married couple who are of the same sex.

Same-sex marriage

Same-sex marriage refers to a marriage registered between two people who are of the same sex. A marriage registered between two people who both identify as female is referred to as a 'female same-sex marriage' and a marriage registered between two people who both identify as male is referred to as a 'male same-sex marriage'. Any marriages where one or both persons do not identify as either male or female are not included in same-sex marriage data. See 'Classifications' in Methodology for further information.

State and territory data

State and territory data refer to the state or territory in which the marriage was registered, or the divorce was granted, rather than where the couple reside. See 'Considerations when interpreting data' in Methodology for further information.

Year of occurrence

Data presented on a year of occurrence basis relate to the date the marriage was celebrated rather than when it was registered with the relevant state or territory Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. See 'Scope and coverage' in Methodology for further information.