Factors behind the 'HSC divorce' phenomenon

Date: Nov 29, 2011

A growing family phenomenon has been noted by a number of relationship experts that relates to the timing of separations and education in something of a surprising manner.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the number of women who undergo a separation between the ages of 50 and 64 has been increasing over previous decades.

The ABS data indicates that females in the 50-54 age bracket have shown a remarkable increase in divorce rates - with 7.3 recorded in 2009 compared to 4.9 in 1989.

For those aged between 55 and 60 there were similar figures that delivered a change of 2.2 percentage points - with a peak of 5 per cent in 2006.

In comparison, the rate of divorce amongst females in the age bracket of 30-34 and 35-39 have actually dropped over the same period of time.

Experts involved in family relationships have highlighted what they call "the HSC itch" as the main culprit behind these figures - with this particular demographic seeking more family law advice than in previous years.

While previous research by the Australian Institute of Family Studies into the leading reasons for divorce found that there were a number of main factors - including communication issues, personality traits and external pressures - these results failed to explain the increase in this specific demographic.

Speaking on one possible explanation, Pam Lewis - director of clinical services at support service Relationships Australia - has suggested that it has more to do with timing than just a desire to leave.

She says that it is possible that many mothers who find themselves in an unhappy marriage will wait until a separation has the least disruptive impact on their children's education - resulting in a higher number of divorces recorded in this particular age bracket.

"[If women are] in a relationship that is unstable or stifling them, they make a long-term plan for their children to gain more independence before looking at taking up options for their lives," Lewis told the Sydney Morning Herald on November 6.

This theory has been echoed by psychologist Anne Hollonds, who said she has seen many examples of the "HSC divorce" in her professional capacity.

Hollands said: "It's a common trend for women who are unhappy with their marriages to wait until their children finish the HSC or have left home."

For these reasons it is understandable why a measurable proportion of this demographic may choose to delay approaching a divorce law firm - they feel they are looking after the interests of their children.