Australians see communication problems as main cause of divorce

Date: May 12, 2015

Attitudes towards divorce in Australia have changed substantially in the last fifty years. It is now much easier to get one and there is less social stigma attached to formally ending a marriage.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) has conducted extensive research into the reasons why people get divorced and the demographic make up of marriage breakdowns.

According to the AIFS survey, just over one-quarter of respondents (27.3 per cent) believed "communication problems" were the main reason couples ended up getting divorced. 

Incompatibility or the couple "drifting apart" was the second most common reason at 21 per cent. A fifth of respondents said having an affair was the main reason marriages broke down in Australia.

Abusive behaviour like physical violence towards partners or children, drug and alcohol use or emotional and verbal abuse were perceived to account for very low numbers of divorce. All were chosen by less than 7 per cent of respondents. However, women were more likely to choose this as a reason than men were. 

Australians were also found to be seeking martial counselling at very high levels. According to the survey by the AIFS, 71.6 per cent of respondents said they seek professional help to try and resolve issues in their marriage before they divorced.

People's awareness of counselling and mediation services were at very high levels, with a recent national poll quoted by the AIFS finding that "marriage counselling had become an established part of the Australian social landscape and almost all Australians were aware of the services".

Divorce in Australia has decreased dramatically since a high in the late 1970s when 4.6 people per thousand ended up getting divorced. Since 2008, this crude divorce rate has remained at around 2.2 people per thousand, with the total numbers of divorces finalised each year being around 50,000, according to the AIFS.

Family law reform introduced "no-fault" divorces in Australia for the first time in 1976. Since then, in order to finalise a divorce, couples need only to prove an irretrievable breakdown of a marriage after separation of 12 months. Misdeeds such as cruelty, desertion, adultery, are no longer the only acceptable grounds for divorce.

In their research, the AIFS found some studies that show a much higher proportion of women than men mention complaints about communication. It has also found studies that do not have a disagreement based on the gender of the respondents. However, this difference may be due to how respondents' reasons are expressed and interpreted. 

For more advice on what is involved with getting a divorce or reaching a fair financial settlement, contact a family lawyer.