Research shows increase in marriage failures once children leave the home

  • by: Natasha Bita, National Social Editor
  • From: News Limited Network
  • May 27, 201312:00AM


Picture: ThinkStock Source: Supplied

EMPTY nesters are divorcing in droves, as the “20-year itch” fuels a mid-life marriage breakdown.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) has found the risk of divorcing after 20 years of marriage has doubled in a generation.

Middle-aged men are more likely to remarry than divorced women, who stay single or live apart from their new lovers.

The first 10 years of marriage remains the danger period for most Australian couples – but the latest data points to a new “20-year itch”.

AIFS director Alan Hayes said couples were staying together until their kids left home.

“The number of divorces involving children under 18 has been declining,” he said.

“I think there is an element of people sticking together for the kids.”

Professor Hayes said women instigated 60 per cent of divorces “and it comes as a shock to most men.”

But middle-aged blokes were more likely to move on – and remarry with younger women.

Divorced women with high educational and professional qualifications were the least likely to remarry.

“They may form a relationship, but not reside in the same household,” Professor Hayes said.

“In the past … they were in the same household but unhappily married.”

Relationships Australia spokeswoman Mary-Jo Morgan said women often became dissatisfied with their partners once the kids moved out.

“There is a proverbial mid-life crisis when the man feels a need to have his ego stroked – but I think women are feeling that too,” she said.

“All of a sudden, things you maybe chose to overlook because you’re raising children are under the microscope.”

Ms Morgan advised couples to go on regular “date nights” – without the kids – to keep their relationship strong.

“Many couples choose the focus to be on the children, and don’t focus on the relationship,” she said.

“There is real grief attached to children moving on and I think people don’t realise the importance of how you manage that process.”

The AIFS report shows the proportion of marriages ending after 20 years has more than doubled from 13 per cent in 1980 to 28 per cent in 2011.

Kids were caught up in two-thirds of the divorces in 1971 – but fewer than half today’s divorces involve children.

Professor Hayes said the fact Australians were now living longer meant marriages were less likely to last until death.

“The meaning of `til death us do part’ is very different now to when they went into the marriage,” he said.

“Men tended to die at a younger age, and they were involved in occupations that were high-risk.

“Now people are fitter, healthier and in some cases more affluent, so they can exercise choice.”

The median age for women to divorce is now 42 – up from 34 in 1971.

Men’s median divorce age has risen from 38 to 45.



  • 1% of couples lived together without marrying.
  • Median age of divorce: 38 for men and 34 for women
  • 68% of divorces involved children under 18
  • Teenagers made up 18% of new mothers
  • 2% of mothers had their first child in their late 30s.


  • 13% of divorcing couples had been married 20 years or more.
  • 49% of divorcing couples were married 10 years or less.


  • 16% of couples live together without marrying
  • 28% of divorcing couples had been married 20 years or more
  • 42% of divorcing couples were married 10 years or less.
  • Median age of divorce: 45 for men and 42 for women
  • 48% of divorces involved children under 18
  • Teenagers made up 9% of new mothers
  • 12% of mothers had their first child in their late 30s.
  • Source: Institute of Family Studies


Relationships Australia spokeswoman Mary-Jo Morgan suggests:

  • DATE nights with your partner ask friends or family to babysit, and don’t spend the whole night talking about the kids.
  • IDENTIFY what bugs you in your relationship.
  • TALK about this with your partner and seek counselling if you need it.
  • DISCUSS what you’ll want from your relationship when the kids leave home.

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