Why divorce rates are set to soar as Covid restrictions are unwound

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Stephen Johnson, Economics Reporter For Daily Mail Australia  
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Divorce rates are set to ‘explode’ as Covid restrictions are unwound with requests for legal advice soaring.

Many estranged couples have delayed their formal separation proceedings as courtrooms were either closed during the lockdowns or resorted to video link.

In 2020, the divorce rate rose by just 1.9 per per cent compared with 2019, with 49,510 of them last year granted, the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed this week.

The per capita divorce rate, for every 1,000 people, stood at 1.9 per cent, a level well below the 2.9 per cent level of 2001, with the number steadily declining during the past two decades.

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But the Separation Guide, which helps warring couples navigate a divorce, said its own data showed a 90 per cent surge in requests for legal advice in 2021, when residents of Sydney and Melbourne lived through strict, lengthy lockdowns.

Chief executive Angela Harbinson said the Family Court was likely to be inundated with divorce cases, which can take anywhere from 12 weeks to seven years to finalise, depending on how complex the assets are.

‘Given divorce can sometimes take over five years, we’re worried that the repercussions of the pandemic on the Family Court will be felt for a long time to come,’ she said.

The Federal Circuit and Family courts are both experiencing long delays with divorce lawyer Bron O’Loan saying the waiting time was about two years.

‘The court like all organisations  across the world have turned to a blend of digital and in-person solutions to help get through the backlog,’ she said.

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Ms Harbinson said the lockdowns had strained many relationships.

‘During the pandemic, couples and families were spending more time together than usual, along with the added pressures of home schooling and working and not being able to connect with their usual support networks or community,’ she told Daily Mail Australia. 

‘In some cases, financial strain and family violence also played a part.’ 

The official government data reflected couples who had started their separation and divorce proceedings before the pandemic began.

‘Unfortunately, it’s just not reflective of what’s happening right now,’ Ms Harbinson said.

‘If the increase in enquiry we’ve seen converts to a similar increase in couples seeking a divorce, there will be a real bottleneck in a Family Court system already under pressure, and possibly about to explode.’

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The Australian Bureau of Statistics admitted its own data needed to be treated cautiously, adding ‘any breakdown of marriages during the COVID-19 pandemic, may not be reflected in changes to the divorce rate for some years’.

The more immediate effect of lockdowns was on marriages, with the number plunging by 30.6 per cent in 2020 – the biggest annual drop since records began in 1901.

The caps on the number of wedding guests – with New South Wales having a 10-person limit – did more to deter nuptials than World War II or the Great Depression. 

The 78,989 tally of those tying the knot was the lowest since 1961, when 76,686 weddings took place back when Australia was home to 10.5 million people instead of 25.7 million.

Saturday, October 10 was the most common date for a wedding, followed by other Saturdays including February 22, March 14, March 7 and surprisingly February 29 which only occurs once every four years during a leap year.

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