By Gianna Huesch
Is marriage becoming a thing of the past? Results of the 2016 census were released last week and have shown a slight increase in couples living together (now 10% of Australians) and similarly a slight decrease in those marrying (now 50% of Australians) since the last census.
Some media commentators have speculated that the new results show that marriage is heading for extinction. For example, conservative newspaper The Australian laments that “Australians (are) slowly turning away from the tradition of marriage” and says “the institution (is going) out of fashion, perhaps never to recover”.
However, others argue that in fact the “institution of marriage is not outdated. The nature of marriage is evolving”. Academics Edith Gray and Ann Evans from the Australian National University, writing in The Conversation, contend:
“While marriage may have lost its practical importance, its symbolic importance still seems to be high. In many ways, getting married is still seen as a marker of achievement. Perhaps new ways of forming relationships and childbearing are not a threat to marriage: they may be a signal of the fact that more options are now available.”
The ANU researchers say that the biggest change in relationship patterns revealed in the new census figures is that whereas in the past, “co-habitation was predominantly confined to people in their 20s and 30s”, now it is “a significant feature for people up to their mid-60s”. They also refer to their own research to suggest that “the increase in cohabitation has not devalued the concept of marriage, but has become a way to preserve marriage as an ideal for long-term commitment”.
From a family law perspective, whether couples cohabit as de factos or as spouses is largely irrelevant. Since 2009, Commonwealth laws for the division of property and spousal maintenance brought de facto couples within the federal family law regime under the Family Law Act 1975, while parenting issues for de facto couples have fallen within the Family Law Act since 1988. Some minor differences in time limits for applications do exist, as well as there being discretion regarding whether a couple is regarded as genuinely de facto in the eyes of the law.
If you have any queries in relation to de facto family law issues, please get in touch with Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch here at Alliance Family Law, or one of our other experienced solicitors, on (02) 6223 2400.
Please note, our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice for your circumstances, please call Alliance.