The first year of the COVID-19 pandemic saw the fewest divorces in Canada since 1973, but according to Statistics Canada, this low figure could be linked to public health measures.
And 2021 could paint a different picture as the justice system catches up, the agency said.
In a new report on divorce statistics from the past 50 years, StatCan said barriers to accessing court services due to the pandemic likely contributed to a “sharp decline” in divorce filings and granted divorces in 2020 from 2019.
In 2020, 42,933 couples divorced, compared to 56,937 couples in 2019.
Statistics Canada said divorces in Canada were generally down, but said that 25% year-over-year difference marked the biggest drop since the Divorce Act was enacted in 1968.
Canadians have lived with a variety of often-strict public health measures since the start of 2020, and these have likely contributed to the lower divorce rate, StatCan said. The closures have slowed court proceedings and led to the adjournment of less urgent cases, while some courts have closed temporarily.
However, the 2020 data may only tell part of the picture. Statistics Canada said that in the case of a “no-fault” divorce, which is traditionally most divorces in Canada, couples must be separated for a year before a divorce is granted.
But the social and economic disruptions keeping people at home may have led to fewer couples filing for divorce, StatCan said, and the full impact of those disruptions on divorce rates may not be visible for at least 2021.
DIVORCE RATES DOWN SINCE 1991
The pandemic was not the only factor contributing to the drop in the divorce rate. According to Statistics Canada, there are two other main factors: an aging married population and a downward trend in young married adults divorcing.
According to the data, young Canadians are more likely to choose common-law unions than marriage, and those who marry do so at older ages than previous generations. Statistics Canada also said that older adults generally divorce less frequently than younger adults.
However, divorce rates among young adults have also declined.
According to Statistics Canada, this translated into a steady decline in annual divorces between 1991 and 2020, from about 12.7 per 1,000 married people to 7.5 per 1,000 in 2019 and 5.6 per 1,000 in 2020.
LOWER RATES ACROSS THE COUNTRY
Statistics Canada said the drop in divorces was universal across all provinces and territories, but said it was most apparent in Ontario, which saw 36 per cent fewer divorces in 2020 compared to 2019.
New Brunswick saw the smallest change, with an 11% year-over-year decrease, while divorce rates in the territories remained stable, StatCan said.
However, looking forward, StatCan said the number of divorces in 2021 will depend on how the pandemic has continued to affect married couples and the ability of the family court system to process divorces at pre-levels. -pandemic or to catch up on delayed divorces from 2020.