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Wednesday 25 August 1999

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3-year itch for married couples




TIM COLEBATCH, ECONOMICS EDITOR

Forget the old stories about the seven-year itch. Married couples are actually most at risk from the itch they feel in the second or third year of their marriage, new figures show. That is the time of peak danger for the survival of the partnership.

The Bureau of Statistics reported yesterday that married couples are more likely to split up in their second or third years than at any other time. Of the 51,370 couples who divorced in 1998, almost one in four had spent their third wedding anniversary living apart.

The longer the marriage, the less chance it will collapse. But even years four and five take a heavy toll, particularly among young couples.

The bureau reports that half the marriages that will end in divorce tend to break down before their eighth anniversary. The good news is that each year you stay together, your chances of breaking up in the year ahead get smaller. Only 3per cent of couples divorce after 30 years together.

The bad news is that, while the risks get smaller, they never vanish. Overall, almost one in five couples are divorced within 10 years of marrying. One in three are divorced after 20 years. And, in all, about 40per cent of Australian marriages end in divorce.

Comparing 1998 to 1988, the bureau reports that divorce is becoming increasingly common. In the past decade the number of couples getting married has risen 9per cent, but the number getting divorced has risen 25per cent. Last year's divorce toll was slightly less than the peak of 52,455 in 1996, but the bureau points out that the numbers have fluctuated before.

Almost half the couples who divorce have no children under 18 at the time; the others, on average, leave 1.9 dependent children. In April 1997, a bureau survey found, almost a million Australian children were living with only one of their natural parents; 68per cent lived with mother in a one-parent family, 20per cent lived with mother, her new partner and the partner's children, and 12per cent - predominantly teenage boys - lived with their father.

The bureau's figures also show that:

* Two-thirds of couples who married in 1998 had lived together beforehand, up sharply from 39per cent in 1988 and 22per cent in 1978.

* Spring has replaced autumn as the most popular season to get married. Almost one in three marriages takes place between September and November, with February to April the second favorite option. Couples are now far less likely to marry in winter than they were a decade ago.

* 1998 was probably the last year that most couples got married in a church. The figures show 50.5per cent of couples last year were married by a minister - mostly Catholic (17.4per cent) or Anglican (11.3per cent) - while 49.5per cent chose a civil celebrant. The trend suggests that by this year most marriages will be civil ones.

* Chinese and Vietnamese Australians are the most likely to divorce. Chinese-born men and women are three times more likely to divorce than Australian-born, while Vietnamese and Filipino-born women are twice as likely to divorce.

* Young Tasmanians have the highest divorce rates of all, possibly because of the strain imposed on marriages by the island's high unemployment rate. Overall, Queenslanders are the most likely to get married and the most likely to get divorced. Victorians are more likely to divorce than New South Wales couples.

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