Fall in marriages and divorces in Singapore last year due to Covid-19 pandemic

The number of marriages registered in 2020 dropped 10.9 per cent from a year earlier to 22,651.
The number of marriages registered in 2020 dropped 10.9 per cent from a year earlier to 22,651.PHOTO: PEXELS

SINGAPORE - The Covid-19 pandemic upended thousands of weddings and even divorce plans last year, with the number of unions registered showing the biggest drop since 2000.

On the flip side, the number of couples who ended their marriages also fell to its lowest since 2006.

A total of 22,651 marriages were registered last year - a 10.9 per cent fall from 25,434 in 2019.

The Department of Statistics, which released the 2020 figures on marriages and divorces on Wednesday (July 7), attributed the fall to circuit breaker restrictions and safe management measures, which affected thousands of couples planning to marry.

The unpredictable shifts in the number of guests allowed at a solemnisation and wedding dinner last year and all the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic was a key reason some couples postponed their weddings.

Solemnisations that were scheduled during the circuit breaker also had to be postponed, though couples could appeal for theirs to be heard. The laws were later changed to allow for solemnisations via video links.

Aside from last year's unusual circumstances, more Singaporeans were also staying single, noted National University of Singapore (NUS) Sociologist Tan Ern Ser.

The number of inter-ethnic marriages, which have become more common in recent decades, also fell as a proportion of all marriages, dropping from 19.7 per cent in 2019 to 18.2 per cent last year. These marriages made up 18.4 per cent of all marriages in 2010.

And given that transnational marriages, in which a Singaporean marries a foreigner, take place in significant numbers here, border closures and other pandemic restrictions may have led to fewer Singaporeans marrying their foreign partners last year, said Dr Tan Poh Lin, an assistant professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at NUS.

Last year, 78.5 per cent of all marriages was the first for both partners, up from 73.9 per cent in 2010.

Another consequence of Covid-19 measures could be seen in the sharp fall in the number of marriages that ended. Last year, 6,959 marriages ended in a divorce or annulment - an 8.7 per cent fall from the 7,623 in 2019 and the lowest number since 2006.

During the circuit breaker, which began in April and ended in June, the Family Justice Courts heard only "urgent and essential" cases, such as those that constituted a threat to life and liberty or were time sensitive, said family lawyers.

All other hearings were adjourned to after the circuit breaker, which had an impact on divorce motions filed and heard.

Lawyer Ivan Cheong said that more couples may have hit a pause button on proceeding with a divorce because of the economic slump.

Lawyer June Lim said incomes may have been hit by the pandemic and couples did not want to end up in a worse financial situation as a result of splitting their assets.

Focus on the Family Singapore's head of research and development Elisa Ng said: "One would naturally want to maintain stability and restore order as much as they can in their life during uncertain times, and filing for divorce last year, just after Covid-19 hit Singapore, would have further destabilised their lives."

Ms Ng added, however, that the circuit breaker and work from home arrangements would have created more marital tensions, introducing new conflicts or resurfacing old ones, between some couples.

Meanwhile, the general divorce rate has been on a downward trend for both men and women in the past decade.

There were 6.3 male divorcees and 6.1 female divorcees per 1,000 married males and females aged 20 and older last year, down from 7.5 male divorcees and 7.2 female divorcees in 2010.

Last year, the mean duration of marriages that ended in a divorce was 10.4 years.