Divorce rates fall when the cost of divorce rises

The divorce rate in Australia is at an all-time low, and a new study from the Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic and Social Research at the University of Melbourne shows that the high costs of divorce are likely to be contributing to this trend.

The research analysed the impact of a reform in the Netherlands which allowed couples to dissolve their marriages in an uncontested process through a local municipality.

Over an eight-year period Dutch couples who agreed on the divorce and its settlement could use this streamlined divorce option to bypass the court system – avoiding fees associated with court hearings and legal representation and reducing processing time to the minimum.

The study found that among three million married couples the likelihood of divorce was 12 per cent higher for those who had the opportunity to bypass the court system than those who did not.

It also found that the reform was more likely to influence couples with a comparable dual income, because they were less likely to require alimony awarded by a court order.

“My research highlights that the cost and waiting periods embedded in the divorce procedure is an important contributor to couples’ decision to divorce,” said Melbourne Institute Research Fellow, Jan Kabátek.

“In Australia, the filing fee for a divorce application alone is close to $900. This combined with other legal fees for court hearings and lawyers can take the cost of divorce into the thousands. Then there is the one-year period in which couples have to remain separated and the drawn-out settlement procedure.

“Clearly divorce is costly in terms of time and money. If Australian authorities were to eliminate the mandatory one-year separation period, reduce the filing fees, or introduce another innovation such as the electronic divorce, we would probably see the divorce rates rebound from their falling trajectory,” he added.

You can download the Working Paper ‘Divorced in a Flash: The Effect of the Administrative Divorce Option on Marital Stability in the Netherlands’ by Jan Kabátek from the Melbourne Institute: melbourneinstitute.unimelb.edu.au/publications/working-papers/