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Marriages, Civil Unions, and Divorces: Year ended December 2015
Embargoed until 10:45am  –  04 May 2016
Commentary

Changes to marriages, civil unions, and divorces data

With same-sex marriage introduced in 2013, the number of civil unions has decreased significantly and interest has shifted from civil unions and marriages to same-sex and opposite-sex couples. As a result we have made changes to marriages, civil unions, and divorces data.

  • Marriages and civil unions have been combined in most cases, with same-sex and opposite-sex breakdowns given where possible. 
  • Divorce data now includes the dissolution of both marriages and civil unions.
  • All marriage, civil union, and divorce data has been randomly rounded to protect confidentiality. Individual figures may not add up to totals, and values for the same data may vary in different tables. Median ages have been recalculated using randomly rounded data. We are committed to ensuring confidentiality by not releasing information that could identify individuals.
  • New data series have been added to Infoshare under the subject category 'population' and group 'marriages, civil unions, and divorces.' The previous Infoshare series have been discontinued and will not be updated but can still be viewed for a short time by clicking 'Show discontinued' under 'Subject categories.' 

Slight drop in the number of marriages and civil unions in 2015

New Zealand residents registered 19,947 marriages and civil unions in the December 2015 year, down slightly from 20,175 in 2014, but more than the 19,425 registered in 2013. Between 2005 and 2012, the annual number of resident marriages and civil unions averaged 21,389.

Graph, marriages and civil unions, 1961–2015.

The general marriage rate (number of marriages and civil unions per 1,000 aged 16 years and over who are not married or in a civil union) was 11.1 in 2015. This is around one-quarter of the 1971 peak, when the rate reached 45.5.

Graph, general marriage rate, 1961–2015.  

The Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act 2013 defined marriage as the union of two people, regardless of their sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity. This led to the first same-sex marriages in New Zealand on 19 August 2013.

In 2015, 19,479 opposite-sex and 471 same-sex resident couples married or formed a civil union. Among same-sex couples, more female (282) than male (189) couples married or formed a civil union. Since the change in the definition of marriage, there have been more opposite-sex couples forming civil unions than same-sex couples.

7 in 10 civil unions were to opposite-sex resident couples

For the second consecutive year, more opposite-sex couples registered a civil union than same-sex couples in 2015. Around 7 in every 10 civil unions registered in 2015 were to opposite-sex couples, compared with 6 in every 10 in 2014, and an average of about 2 in 10 in 2005–13.

However, the number of opposite-sex couples registering a civil union has dropped since the introduction of same-sex marriage in 2013 – down from an average of around 70 in 2006–13 to 39 in 2015. Same-sex civil unions have dropped even more significantly, down from over 200 each year from 2005 to 2012, to 18 in 2015. 

Almost half of same-sex couples marrying are from overseas

In 2015, 2,910 marriages and civil unions were registered to overseas residents. Of these, 438 were same-sex couples, and 2,475 were opposite-sex couples. Overseas residents made up nearly one-half of all same-sex couples marrying or forming civil unions in New Zealand in 2015.

Of opposite-sex couples travelling here to marry, 60 percent had one or both partners born in New Zealand, compared with 25 percent of same-sex couples.

Divorces granted to 8,463 married couples and 60 civil union couples in 2015

In 2015, the Family Court granted 8,463 married couples and 60 civil union couples a divorce. This is equivalent to 9.3 divorces for every 1,000 estimated married or civil union couples. 

In 1981, the number of divorces rose sharply after the passing of the Family Proceedings Act 1980, which allowed for the dissolution of marriage on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. Divorces recorded a temporary high of 12,396 in 1982. Subsequently, the number fell to a low of 8,556 in 1989 before increasing to a high of 10,608 in 2004. Since then the number of divorces has tended to decline.

The trend in age at divorce has been moving upward. This partly reflects the marked trend toward later marriages, which started in the early 1970s. The median age at divorce in 2015 (including the dissolution of couples from both marriages and civil unions) was 46.5 years for men and 44.2 years for women, compared with 43.3 years and 40.8 years, in 2005.

Graph, divorces (marriages and civil unions), 1981–2015.  

About one-third of marriages end in divorce

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 (36 percent) of New Zealanders who married in 1990 had divorced before their silver wedding anniversary (25 years). This compares with 34 percent for those who married in 1980, and 28 percent for those who married in 1970.

Data about the proportion of marriages ending in divorce is now available in Infoshare under the subject category 'population' and group 'marriages, civil unions, and divorces'. Look for the table 'Divorces, proportion of marriages ending in divorce before 25 years of marriage.' 

For more detailed data see the Excel tables in the 'Downloads' box.

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