Marriages and Divorces, Australia methodology

Latest release
Reference period
2021

Introduction

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

Up to 2002 and from 2008, data for marriages and divorces have been published in Marriages and Divorces, Australia (see 'View all releases' to access).

For marriages from 2003 to 2007, data were published in Marriages, Australia.

For divorces from 2002 to 2007, data were published in Divorces, Australia.

Changes to published tables for marriages and divorces have been made in this report. Further information about these and related statistics can be requested from the ABS website Contact Us page, or the Customer Assistance Service on 1300 135 070.

Marriages and divorces legislation

Marriages

The Marriage Act 1961 came into full operation on 1 September 1961. Under the Act, marriages may be solemnised 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 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.

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.

The minimum age at which persons are legally free to marry in Australia 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.

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 e.g., one party was 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 Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia and the Family Court of Western Australia. This is the first time the ABS has received a separate supply of data for Western Australia from the Family Court of Western Australia. Prior to 2021, all data were sourced from the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia. The data provided are coded and compiled into aggregate statistics shown in this publication.

Acknowledgements

This publication draws extensively on information provided by the state and territory Registrars of Births, Deaths and Marriages, the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia and the Family Court of Western Australia. Their continued cooperation is very much appreciated: without it, the wide range of vital 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.

Visiting overseas residents who marry in 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.

Except for 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 in a calendar year.

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

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

Classifications

A range of socio-demographic data are 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 have 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

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, to capture civil marriages for the marriage celebrant data item. There may be some difference in time series due to regular changes in the classification used over time.

From the 2021 publication, marriage celebrant data are summarised to include Ministers of Religion and Civil Celebrants only. Customised tables with more detail are available with a paid data consultancy.

Sex and gender

The Marriage Act 1961 was amended in Dec 2017 so that marriage in Australia is no longer determined by sex or gender. As a result, the question collecting data on sex of marrying parties on the Notice of Intended Marriage (NOIM) were updated to include response options of “Male”, “Female” and ‘X’ (where 'X' is described as referring to indeterminate, intersex or unspecified).

In September 2021, this question was further revised to:

  • become optional
  • collect gender (instead of sex)
  • include ‘Male’ ‘Female’ and ‘Non Binary’ as response options.

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, 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. 

From the 2021 publication, only the relative birthplace of couples has been included in tables. Customised tables with more detail are available with a paid data consultancy.

Considerations when interpreting data

Divorces time series in 2021

The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia have advised that the high number of divorces finalised in 2021 is in part related to administrative changes to increase finalisations and reduce timeframes. The changes enabled the finalisation of more applications for divorce than previous years and allowed the Court to reduce backlogs by finalising more divorce applications in the year than were received. Similar system changes also had an impact on divorces granted by the Family Court of Western Australia. These changes led to a 13.6% increase in divorces granted in Australia when comparing 2021 with 2020.

This constitutes a break in time series and any comparison with earlier years should be made with caution.

Revision of 2018 and 2019 divorces data

Divorces data for 2018 and 2019 was revised in the 2020 divorces data release. Investigation into divorces data identified that 2018 and 2019 data had previously been 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 were republished and revised time series data included where appropriate. It is recommended that data users refer to the 2018 and 2019 divorces data from the 2020 publication rather than previously published data. Data for years prior to 2018 and after 2019 are based on calendar year and have not been revised.

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. 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 jurisdiction-specific administrative factors that can affect the processing of marriage registrations. These factors can impact timeliness of marriage registrations and delay provision of data to the ABS. 

State and territory considerations - Divorces

Divorce applications can be electronically submitted from anywhere in the world. Divorce hearings are conducted at selected locations/cities and applicants can opt for a hearing date and location at the time of filing. Parties do not need to attend the divorce hearing; however, they must provide the necessary documentation and evidence before a divorce is granted. Divorce cases are allocated and finalised where they were filed. This may be different to the state or territory in which the applicant/s usually reside. State and territory data represent where the divorce was processed and not the usual residence of applicants.

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 are registered and included in statistics in New South Wales. Divorces registered on Norfolk Island are also included in statistics for New South Wales.

Same-sex marriages and divorces

The introduction of same-sex marriage from December 2017 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 and not identified separately in output. Where data for 2017 are presented by sex, a very small number of females will appear in data for males, and vice versa.

There are a small number of same-sex divorces included in the published divorce counts each year. These same-sex divorces were not separately identifiable in data provided to the ABS before 2021.

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 appear 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

From 2005 to 2020 all divorce data processing has been completed by the Family Court of Australia rather than the ABS. Divorce data were provided to the ABS in aggregate format.

From 2021, the ABS received unit record divorces data from both the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia and the Family Court of Western Australia.

Perturbation is not applied to divorce data. To ensure confidentiality of cells with small values, some data are suppressed and 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).

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. Estimated resident population is based on the jurisdiction of usual residence.

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 in Table 2 per 1,000 married population, to offer a more accurate representation of divorce rates. These data are only produced for years in which the Census of Population and Housing is conducted using registered marital status data.

Effects of rounding

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

Glossary

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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 the time of the Census of Population and Housing. This is calculated every five 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.

Duration of marriage to divorce

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

Duration of marriage to separation

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

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, except for 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.

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, duration, 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 refer to (unless otherwise specified). For example, this publication presents data for the 2021 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 2021 reference year include all marriages registered in Australia in 2021 that were received by the ABS in 2021 or by the end of January 2022. For divorces, data for the 2021 reference year include all divorces granted (decree made absolute) in 2021 as provided to the ABS by the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia and the Family Court of Western 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 have 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.

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