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Australian Government Suggests Permanent Adoption of COVID-Era Remote Weddings

The legislation changes will allow for a notice of intended marriage to be remotely witnessed via videoconferencing.

The Australian government has proposed to permanently adopt a COVID-era measure that changes the way marriage is conducted in the country.

On Nov. 15, a new provision to the Marriage Act 1961 was introduced to the parliament in a move to make marriage “easier and more accessible” for Australian citizens and residents.

If passed, the changes will allow for a notice of intended marriage (NOIM) to be remotely witnessed via videoconferencing, removing the need to conduct the process in person.

A NOIM is a compulsory step in getting married in Australia.

An interested couple needs to lodge a NOIM at least one month before the wedding date, and the notice has to be physically observed and signed by two witnesses.

However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the government introduced temporary measures allowing online witnessing to prevent the spread of the virus.

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Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the changes would make it more convenient for marrying couples.

“Remote witnessing will provide greater access and convenience for marrying couples, especially those in rural, remote or regional parts of Australia,” he said in a statement.

“Marrying couples will be able to continue to sign and witness the NOIM in person, through the traditional, paper-based method, if they choose.”

However, the attorney-general noted that the new legislative changes would require authorised celebrants to meet independently and in-person with each party to marriage before they solemnise it.

This is a safeguard to make sure that both parties provide real consent to the marriage.

“The amendments will also confirm the requirement for the physical presence of all parties, including the authorised celebrant and two official witnesses, on the day of the marriage,” Mr. Dreyfus said.

A Significant Rise in Divorces

Amid legislative changes to make marriage more convenient and easier, Australia has recently seen an ongoing rise in the number of divorces.

According to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there were 56,244 divorces in 2021, up from the average of around 50,000 in the past decade.

While administrative changes were partly responsible for the increase, the 2021 divorce figure was the highest since Australia introduced no-fault divorce in 1976.

The crude divorce rate was 2.2 divorces per 1,000 residents in 2021, up from 1.9 in 2020, reversing the downward trend since the 1990s.

The median age at divorce was 45.9 for males and 43.0 for females, similar to previous years’ statistics.

Around 41 percent of divorces occurred to couples married for nine years or less, while those who had been married for 20 or more years accounted for over one-quarter of divorces in 2021.

A report by Australian Family Lawyers, the country’s largest family law firm, revealed unexpected causes for divorces in recent years.

Apart from common reasons (such as financial issues and lack of compatibility), an increasing number of married couples decided to part way due to different perceptions about COVID-19 vaccines, Trump politics, and some “conspiracy theories.”

Some other uncommon reasons for divorce included a spouse changing gender and women becoming more independent and “selfish.”

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