Sunday, September 10, 2006

After the kids have split so do their mum and dad

EMPTY nesters are taking flight in increasing numbers.

Statistics from the Australian Institute of Family Studies show the number of couples who have divorced after at least 25 years of marriage has increased by 50 per cent since 1985, rising to 15.7 per cent of all divorced couples by 2004.

Demographer Bernard Salt said it was a trend that would escalate.

He said many baby boomers now in their early 50s were married before the Family Law Act came into effect in 1975, bringing in no-fault divorce.

"These people would have been connected, paired up, in the early 1970s, late 1960s, when divorce was still a social taboo," he said.

"It's like freedom for the last generation who were caught in an old-world social paradigm of a 21-year-old girl announcing her engagement on her 21st birthday, getting married before she was 22, pregnant by 23 and living with this guy for 30 years," he said.

"She turns 50 and she thinks, I'm just not happy, and could not have made that decision [before] because of her values, her mindset, her upbringing, because of the social stigma of divorce, because of the children, because of financial reasons.

The gap grew over rearing of kids

FIVE years ago John Rivers, 53, separated from his wife of 26 years, his childhood sweetheart. "We grew apart over many, many years," Mr Rivers, a lecturer, said.

"We were together for quite a while because there were children involved."

The couple met at high school, went to university together and, at 22, married.

"At the time, everything was wonderful and great and then we started a family," he said. "Even in the young days, little differences appeared in how we brought up the children, what our goals were in life. Over time, that grew wider."

Mr Rivers lives with his current partner, also a divorcee, whom he met through the dating service Fast Impressions.

"In the old days, people would have stuck together for economic reasons," he said. "Now, it's still possible for both people to be economically viable."

"So they jumped in early, made commitments, may not have had a fantastically happy relationship for 30 years, and then it all gets too much.

"They find they get to a tipping point in their lives, probably turning 50, where they think, I just don't want to do this for another 30 years."

The statistics, compiled by AIFS from Australian Bureau of Statistics reports, show the number of men aged 50 to 59 who are divorcing has also almost doubled since 1985, from 10.6 per cent to 19.7 per cent in 2004.

The patterns are similar for women.

In 1985, the number of females aged 50 to 59 granted a divorce was 6.9 per cent. By 2004, that had risen to 14.8 per cent.

Anglicare Counselling's Illawarra clinical services manager Margaret Fuller said more older couples were seeking help with their relationships.

"It's more acceptable now to put up your hand and say, 'We need help,"' she said. "People are living longer and are aware that their marriages are going to go on for longer. They are going to be married without children longer than they have ever been before.

"Longevity is changing people's sense that they need to sort it out or get out," she said.

"I think really that we're an ageing population and in that last phase of married life, which is the longest, people are dealing with unique situations, like declining health and retirement.

"Couples are thrown together and don't know how to deal with each other. Sometimes it is a critical moment in marriage."

Mr Salt said the baby boomers were also the last generation to marry young.

"In 1971 the average bride in Australia was 21 and the average groom was 23," he said. "From 1971 onwards, and particularly through the 1980s and 1990s, no one got married that young." The stigma of divorce had also lessened over the past 15 years.

Getting Divorced Without Ruining Your Life: A Reasoned, Practical Guide to the Legal, Emotional and Financial Ins and Outs of Negotiating a Divorce Settlement