The Great Separation: Why divorce rates are expected to rise

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder ... but what happens when you and your partner are stuck together within the same four walls during a pandemic?

New research from amica (an Australian Government-backed online separation tool), shows COVID-19 has led to significant increases in relationship stress.

An upset and crying woman looks distressed as she stands opposite a man.
Will increased relationship stress from COVID-19 trigger rise in separations? Photo: Getty Images

In fact, more than one-in-five Australians (21%) reported that COVID-19 put their relationship under pressure, with a further eight per cent saying the pandemic had led them to consider separating from their partner.


So what does this mean for the months ahead?

Will there be a "Great Separation" to match the "Great Resignation" we've already been warned about?

two women angry looking away
Will there be a 'Great Separation'? Photo: Getty

Relationship stress worse in lockdown states

The research shows, for those states living through extended lockdowns, increased stress levels also spread to relationships.

Up to 37 per cent of people in NSW and 32 per cent of Victorians experienced increased relationship stress or considered separating.

In regions with less time in lockdown, relationship stress rates were lower.

South Australia reported the lowest rate of only 10 per cent.

Young couples hit harder

Interestingly, couples aged 18-34 experienced higher relationship stress rates (40 per cent), compared with couples aged 35-44 (28 per cent), 45-54 (30 per cent) and 55+ (17 per cent).

With support networks fractured by lockdown restrictions and distance, many couples have been facing pandemic challenges on their own, with reduced external input and little time away from each other.

Two people sitting next to one another with their hands intertwined.
Younger couples have experienced higher rates of relationship stress during COVID-19. Photo: Getty Images

Rise in separation rate

According to amica project chief and National Legal Aid Director, Gabrielle Canny, couples who have been holding it together to get through this time may now look to separate.

“The last two years have been extremely challenging for all Australians ... we anticipate that there are tens of thousands of couples who have held things together as long as they can, but now want to move on …," Gabrielle said.

This could mean we see a rise in Australia's divorce rate.

Reducing the stress of separation

Gabrielle shared a powerful reminder for couples looking to separate without “becoming one of those bitter and expensive separation horror stories we so often hear about”.

“The best piece of advice I can give to couples who feel their relationship has run its course is to do your research and arm yourself with information, before you arm yourself with a lawyer,” she said.

Person in suit separates two stacks of coins.
amica is an online separation tool designed by family lawyers which helps to guide separating couples through the process. Photo: Getty Images

But there is hope in the research findings.

“The good news from our research is that one-in-five (22 per cent) people say their relationship has improved over the course of the pandemic and 48 per cent say it has had no impact on them," Gabrielle said.

We also see that relationship stress is lower in those places which avoided prolonged lockdowns, such as South Australia, where just 1 in 10 people say the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns have had a negative impact on their relationship.

"This gives hope to those in NSW, the ACT and Victoria, for example, that now lockdowns are lifted, your relationship could also improve and become stronger,” Gabrielle concluded.

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