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Marriage, civil union, and divorce

Statistics on marriages and civil unions record the number of marriages and civil unions registered in New Zealand each year. Statistics on divorces record the number of divorces (marriage dissolutions) granted in New Zealand each year.

The following highlights are based on marriages and civil unions registered in New Zealand and divorces granted in New Zealand:

  • There were 20,940 marriages registered to New Zealand residents during the December 2010 year.
  • The 2010 figure is 23 percent lower than the peak of 27,199 registered marriages in 1971.
  • The general marriage rate was 12.5 marriages per 1,000 not-married population aged 16 years and over in 2010, compared with 15.5 per 1,000 a decade earlier in 2000.
  • The median ages of men and women marrying for the first time in 2010 were 29.9 and 28.2 years, respectively.
  • Just under one-third (6,431) of all marriages registered in 2010 were remarriages of one or both partners.
  • January, February, and March continue to be the most popular months in which people marry – 42 percent of marriages were celebrated in the first three months of 2010.
  • There were 8,874 orders for dissolution of marriage granted in New Zealand during the December 2010 year.
  • The divorce rate in 2010 was 10.2 divorces per 1,000 estimated existing marriages.
  • Analysis of divorce statistics by year of marriage shows that just over one-third of New Zealanders who married in 1985 had divorced before their silver wedding anniversary (25 years).

Figure 3

Graph, Marriage and divorce rates 1961–2010.

Marriages

There were 20,940 marriages registered to New Zealand residents in the December 2010 year, down 688 or 3 percent from 21,628 marriages in 2009. Over the last decade, there has been an average of 21,100 marriages per year. This compares with an average of 24,500 during the period 1971–80. The 2010 figure is 23 percent lower than the peak of 27,199 registered marriages in 1971.

The general marriage rate (number of marriages per 1,000 not-married population aged 16 years and over) was 12.5 per 1,000 in 2010, lower than the rate of 13.2 per 1,000 in 2009. The rate has declined in the last decade from 15.5 per 1,000 in 2000, and is currently less than one-third of the peak of 45.5 per 1,000 recorded in 1971. Many factors have contributed to the fall in the marriage rate, including the growth in de facto unions, a general trend towards delayed marriage, and increasing numbers of New Zealanders remaining single.

Age at marriage

New Zealanders are marrying later than in the past. In 2010, a total of 562 teenage girls (under 20 years) married, compared with 8,717 in 1971. Teenagers comprised 32 percent of all brides in 1971, but only 3 percent in 2010. Among partnered women aged 15-19 years, nine out of 10 were living in a de facto union at the time of the 2006 Census.

The median age (half are younger, and half are older, than this age) of men who married for the first time in 2010 was 29.9 years. This is about seven years older than the median age of those who married for the first time in 1971. The median age of women who married for the first time has risen by a similar margin, from 20.8 years in 1971 to 28.2 years in 2010. Women still tend to marry men older than themselves, but the gap between their median ages at first marriage has narrowed. In 1971, the gap was 2.1 years, but by 2010 it narrowed to 1.7 years.

Among all marriages (first and remarriages), the median age at marriage has been rising steadily since the early-1970s. The median age at marriage reached historic lows of 23.5 years for men and 21.2 years for women in 1971, before rising to 32.1 years for men and 30.0 years for women in 2010. These median ages have been relatively constant since 2004.

Remarriages

The number of New Zealand resident marriages where one or both partners had previously been married was 6,431 in 2010, down 5 percent from 2009. The proportion of all marriages that were remarriages in 2010 was 31 percent. In 1971, just 16 percent of marriages (4,385) involved the remarriage of one or both partners. By 1983, this had increased to 33 percent. Since then the proportion of remarriages has remained roughly around one-third, but has been decreasing slightly in the last decade.

Ninety percent of those remarrying in 2010 were previously divorced, up from 67 percent in 1971. This rise can be partly attributed to the increase in the number of people who are divorced. In 1971, only 4 percent of not-married people were divorced; in 2006, the corresponding figure was 16 percent (based on census data). Of all the New Zealand residents who married in 2010, 21 percent of men and 19 percent of women were previously divorced. About half the divorced people who remarry marry another divorced person.

De facto unions

A growing proportion of New Zealanders, like their counterparts in Australia, North America, and Europe, live together without legally formalising their union. The five-yearly Census of Population and Dwellings is the primary source of information on de facto unions. Marriage and civil union statistics provide information on legally registered unions only. In 1996, about one in four men and women aged 15–44 years who were in partnerships were not legally married. By 2006, this figure had increased to around two in five.

Civil unions

The Civil Unions Act 2004 came into force on 26 April 2005, and first ceremonies were celebrated on 29 April 2005. This Act introduced a new form of legal relationship. Two people aged 18 years and over, whether of opposite or the same sex, can enter into a civil union provided they are not currently married to, or in a civil union with, someone else. People aged 16 and 17 years must have their guardian’s consent to enter a civil union. A couple who are currently married can transfer their relationship to a civil union. An opposite-sex couple in a civil union can transfer their relationship to a marriage. As in the past, a same-sex couple cannot enter into a marriage.

In 2010, there were 273 civil unions registered to New Zealand residents. These comprised 200 same-sex unions (127 female and 73 male) and 73 opposite-sex unions.

To 31 December 2010, there have been a total of 1,851 civil unions registered to New Zealand residents. Of these, 1,453 (78 percent) were same-sex civil unions. In the same period, a further 363 civil unions were registered in New Zealand to overseas residents. Eighty-seven percent were same-sex civil unions.

Divorces

In 2010, 8,874 marriage dissolution orders were granted by the Family Court, up slightly from the 2009 total of 8,737.

In 1981, there was a sharp increase in divorces following the passing of the Family Proceedings Act 1980. This allowed for the dissolution of marriage on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. Divorces recorded a temporary high of 12,395 in 1982. Subsequently, both the number and rate of marriage dissolutions dropped, but the trend was upward again from the late 1980s to 2004. In the last decade, there has been an average of 9,800 marriage dissolutions per year, varying from 10,609 in 2004 to 8,737 in 2009.

The divorce rate (divorces per 1,000 existing marriages) was 10.2 in 2010, the same as the rate in 2009, but lower than the rate of 11.3 in 2007 and 2008. During the early 1990s, the rate fluctuated around 12.0 per 1,000, and around 12.5 during the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Annual divorce statistics do not give a complete picture of the number of marriages ending in divorce. Analysis of divorce statistics by year of marriage shows that just over one-third of New Zealanders who married in 1985 had divorced before their silver wedding anniversary (25 years). For those married in 1975 and 1970, the corresponding figures were 30 and 28 percent, respectively.

Age at divorce

The upward trend in age at divorce is continuing. This partly reflects the marked trend towards later marriages, which started in the early 1970s. The median age at divorce in 2010 was 45.1 years for men and 42.5 years for women. Divorces in 2010 were, on average, about three-and-a-half years older than those whose marriages dissolved a decade earlier. The median ages in 2000 were 41.6 years for men and 39.0 for women.

More information

The following information on marriage, civil union, and divorce is available on the Statistics NZ website:

Time-series data is available from the Infoshare database. Marriage, civil union, and divorce data is available from two subject groups in the Population category:

  • Marriages, Civil Unions, and Divorces – VSM
  • Marriage and Divorce Rates – DMR.

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