The Times
The Times

Australian Divorce Applications Soared During Lockdowns, Now Couples Face a New Divorce Dilemma

It’s no secret that being “locked down” with your spouse puts extra friction on a marriage. Across the world though, marriage rates dropped during the peak Covid lockdown period and couples considering divorce skyrocketed. Married partners experiencing unprecedented levels of economic, social and even existential stress. Australian marriage rates plummeted, and divorce rates saw a substantial rise, especially towards the end of the lockdown period.

Divorce rates fell in the 2021-2022 financial year, but not far enough

The good news, perhaps, is that the divorce rate in Australia for the recent financial year fell by around five percent to 47016, still around six percent higher than pre-pandemic rates. While the peak may be directly attributed to lockdowns stress, the reasons it remains well above pre-pandemic rates are still unclear.

The new challenge for unhappy couples

The current “marriage environment” may not be as stressful as pandemic lockdowns but the economic aftermath is fast becoming a major concern for struggling families. The recent announcement of a 21 year high increase in inflation rates, coupled with low wages and extremely high cost of living is putting families under further financial stress. Current living costs have skyrocketed thanks to Covid’s legacy of supply chain issues coupled with unseasonal floods meaning that couples face unprecedented financial challenges.

With so much financial uncertainty on the horizon, one reason for the drop in divorce rates may be fear of the unknown. The rental crisis, coupled with plummeting house values could be reasons couples are choosing to shelter from the next storm, in place.

Divorcing in the time of economic uncertainty

When a couple simply cannot maintain cohabitation, and divorce seems inevitable, lawyers advise getting your financial ducks in a row early to avoid further financial stress during times of economic upheaval.

Jennifer Hetherington, Brisbane family law firm Divorce Hub responded to questions about delaying divorces and property settlements due to the turbulent housing market. “Your assets are not divided at the date of separation; they’re divided at the date the order is made. Delaying property settlement can create further complications as the housing market changes. If you’re considering divorce, speaking to a family lawyer sooner, rather than later, can help you make choices that will greatly impact your financial future.”

The uncomfortable solution

Can’t find a temporary rental? Can’t afford a post-divorce home in the current market? The solution may be practical, if a little uncomfortable. One in seven Australians have cohabited with an ex-partner according to a recent survey. Partners choosing to share a dwelling, if not a life, are on the rise. Just one economic change that has impacted contemporary family life, the idea of “living with the ex” takes its place among other dramatic changes to marriage and parenting over the last few decades. Financially independent pre-marital cohabitation, bird nesting co-parenting and extended family living may be the new normal for families in Australia.