Family and Marriage Program

Program manager: Ruth Weston
Program staff

Current Research Projects
Completed Projects

Recent Publications


Program Overview

The Family and Marriage program focuses on family stability, family transitions, and family law. Transitions include young people leaving home, and couple and family formation, dissolution and re-formation. Particular attention is given to factors that help explain diverse pathways (including the strengthening of relationships in their early stages), the way these pathways are negotiated, and their impact on family members. Central to this work is the evaluation of the impact on families of the Family Law Act 1975, particularly in relation to amendments. Trends are examined at societal, family, and individual levels.


Family Trends and Transitions

The Family and Marriage Program analyses broad trends in patterns of leaving home, couple and family formation, family stability, and family dissolution and re-formation, along with associated values, attitudes and beliefs. Aside from providing a window into society's core values, the monitoring and analysis of these trends are important for policy development.

Trends Analysis

Project Manager: Lixia Qu

In the past year analyses of trends in family formation, transitions, and dissolution have generated a number of publications and presentations, particularly in the domains of partnering and of premarital cohabitation. In addition, a statistical information series, Family Facts & Figures has been produced for the Web covering the following topics: Australian families; Australian households; Child care; Cohabitation; and, Marriages. Staff also participate in advisory or reference groups established by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to assist in the development of their surveys and presentation of findings.



Positive Family Relationships

The Family and Marriage Program examines how couples develop strategies for living together and for adjusting to change. The program examines relationships from various perspectives: strengthening relationships in their early stages, identifying factors that contribute to the trajectories of relationship quality and stability, and learning lessons from long-lasting marriages. A key aspect of this work involves monitoring and evaluating policies in this area and disseminating information through publications, paper presentations, and media interviews.

The Case for Marriage in Australia Project

Project Manager: Robyn Parker

The Case For Marriage published in 2000 by American researcher Linda Waite and journalist Maggie Gallagher presented results from a vast body of research supporting the contention that getting and remaining married is generally associated with better functioning and wellbeing of individuals, couples and families. The broad research question to be addressed is whether such a case for marriage can be made in Australia. The first stage of the project involves examining the Australian marriage research to determine whether, in fact, marrying does confer a range of advantages on individuals and couples and if so, the nature and extent of those advantages. The review should also reveal gaps in Australian marital research that may lend themselves to future Institute projects. The second stage of the project will entail analysing the Housing, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) dataset. The project will be completed in 2005.


Family Relationships and Work Circumstances

Project Manager: Ruth Weston

This project, undertaken in collaboration with the AIFS' Family and Society Program assessed the nature and strength of links between marital and family wellbeing and parents' work circumstances. Attention focused on long work hours of fathers in couple relationships with children under the age of 15 years. Based on data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey, analysis examined not only fathers' personal wellbeing and views about how work affects family life, but also the views of mothers (as well as fathers) regarding spousal relationships and father-child relationships.



Family Law

Monitoring and contributing to the debate on family law issues is part of the core function of the Family and Marriage Program. The scope of family law research has broadened to include not only marriage and divorce but also parental responsibilities for children regardless of whether the parents have ever lived together or married, and thus spans the entire Family and Marriage program. In the past year the main focus of our family law research has been on the Institute's Caring For Children After Separation Project, and on the impact of policy and reform on consumers of the family law system. Building on and extending this project, a new study of disputes about parent-child contact arrangements has also begun.


Caring for Children After Separation

Project Manager: Bruce Smyth

As part of the broad policy shift towards encouraging post-separation co-parenting, there remains keen interest in ascertaining the nature, amount and quality of contact that non-resident parents have with their children. To date, however, little is known in Australia about some of the most rudimentary components of parent-child contact, such as the distinction between 'day only' contact versus 'sleepovers', and 'holiday' versus 'term-time' arrangements. Failure to make these distinctions can inaccurately convey both the amount and quality of contact that is occurring. The Caring for Children after Parental Separation project hopes to address some of these gaps.

The main aims of the project are (a) to map the nature, amount, and quality of parent-child contact between non-resident parents and their children; (b) to improve understanding of why a significant proportion of non-resident parents have little or no contact with their children, and (c) to examine the inter-relation, if any, between contact and child support.

While the focus of the project is on mapping the detail of post-separation parenting patterns, the data will nonetheless serve as a benchmark on which to begin modelling the economic implications of contact for parents (both non-resident and resident). They will also act as an important source of information for a more comprehensive investigation into the impact of divorce on children and parents.

Data have been collected from two sources: (a) a series of focus groups, comprising 54 separated/divorced parents with at least one child under 18 years; and (b) telephone interviews with 971 separated parents from around Australia who have a biological or adopted child under 18 in 2003. Data from the HILDA Survey are also being used to augment the project. Findings from the focus group segment of this project were published in 2004 in an AIFS research report edited by Bruce Smyth titled Parent-child contact and post-separation parenting arrangements.


Understanding Contact Disputes

Project Manager: Bruce Smyth

The aim of this project is to gain insight into the prevalence of disputes about contact and the dynamics or trigger events that lead to disputes on contact escalating into legal conflict. The project will examine contact disputes in the general population of separated parents whether or not they have had any contact with the family law system, lawyers, or professionals involved in dispute resolution. It will involve telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of separated parents, together with qualitative face-to-face interviews with separated parents in Melbourne and Sydney who have used mediation services and a contact orders program.

The project is a collaborative one between the Institute and the University of Sydney Faculty of Law. It is funded by the Australian Government Attorney-General's Department in conjunction with the Australian Institute of Family Studies.


Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey
Family dynamics modules and core design

Project Manager: Ruth Weston

The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey, a longitudinal survey funded by the Commonwealth Department of Family and Community Services is conducted by a consortium comprising the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, University of Melbourne (the lead agency), the Australian Institute of Family Studies, and the Australian Council for Educational Research. The Family and Marriage Program, in consultation with the Director and other Institute research programs, is responsible for the development of the family dynamics modules and works with consortium partners in coordinating the questionnaire design.

Data from the first wave of the survey, undertaken from August 2001 to January 2002, were released in October 2002. Information was collected from almost 14,000 people aged from 15 years from 7,682 households across Australia. Wave 2 began in August 2002. Wave 5 is scheduled to be in the field in late 2005. Since the first wave data became available in 2002, staff in all research programs have used data HILDA data to address a range of research questions, the findings of which have been the subject of a number of papers and presentations. Some of this work has involved collaboration with external researchers.

Further information about HILDA and means of gaining access to the moderately confidentialised Wave 1 dataset for research purposes is available at the following Web site:



Completed Projects

Fertility Decision Making Project

Project Manager: Ruth Weston

As in other developed countries, Australia is experiencing a decline in fertility rates in the context of increasing life expectancy, and thus an ageing of the population in both relative and absolute terms. There is a great deal of speculation about the relative importance of factors contributing to the fall in fertility since access to effective contraception became readily available. Considerable attention has been given to life course trends in society, financial and non-financial costs of having children, and beliefs, attitudes and values that may discourage childbearing, but we know little about the relative impact of, and the interactions among, the factors that shape Australians' fertility preferences, expectations and behaviour.

The Fertility Decision Making Project was conducted in collaboration with the Australian Government's Office for Women, and sought to explain how a range of factors contributing to decisions about having children interact to help shape fertility trajectories. The project also aims to provide insight into policy-relevant issues with respect to how couples and families manage work and family commitments.

Following an extensive period of consultation with the Office for Women, fieldwork on the project commenced in December 2003. A national, random sample of 3,201 men and women aged 20-39 years was interviewed by telephone. Questions covered a wide range of aspects of the respondents' lives, including their relationship and childbearing history, their employment, income and education, aspirations and expectations of having children in the future, and the importance they attach to various factors that might be considered in the decision to have or not have a child. A subsample of 313 partners of respondents completed a mailed self-report questionnaire. The outcomes of the Fertility Decision Making Project have been published in the report 'It's not for lack of wanting kids...' A report on the Fertility Decision Making Project. Further analysis of the data set is in progress.


A Study of Australian Relationship Education Service Activities

Project Manager: Robyn Parker

The Institute, in partnership with the Centre for Research in Education, Equity and Work at the University of South Australia, completed a national survey of relationship education services in order to increase knowledge of the nature and range of available services and to develop a way of classifying them to enable meaningful comparisons among program types. The project was funded by the Commonwealth Department of Family and Community Services as part of the Stronger Families and Communities Strategy.

The project surveyed a sample of relationship education programs in Australia, identifying, among other things, who the providers and clients are, what they do and how they do it, how much it costs, and evaluation processes. A directory of the programs offered by those providers who participate was compiled.

In conjunction with the development of the directory, a system for classifying programs according to a small number of key dimensions was also constructed, yielding a typology of relationship education programs that will allow for meaningful comparisons across programs for the purposes of research and evaluation. It provides a key to program characteristics that will allow relationship professionals, marriage celebrants and the public to make informed choices about the program that would best suit their clients' or their own needs.

The project commenced in June 2001 and was completed in June 2002. The final report is available from the Department of Family and Community Services Web site.


Recent Publications

See also Conference papers and presentations and for earlier publications the AIFS publications list. The AIFS annual report also provides an appendix of 'Staff publications, presentations and professional involvement'.

Trends and transitions


Qu, L. and Weston, R. (2005), 'Snapshot of couple families with stepparent-child relationships.' Family Matters no.70 Autumn: 36-37. Abstract


Parker, R. and Alexander, M. (2004), 'Factors influencing men's and women's decisions about having children.' Family Matters no.69 Spring - Summer: 24-31. Abstract

Qu, L. (2004), 'Children's living arrangements after parental separation.' Family Matters no.67 Autumn: 4-7. Abstract

Qu, L. and Wise, S. (2004), 'Multiple child care arrangements in Australia. ' Family Matters no.69 Spring - Summer: 56-61. Abstract

Qu, L. and Weston, R. (2004), 'Family size: men's and women's aspirations over the years.' Family Matters no.69 Spring - Summer 2004: 18-23. Abstract

Qu, L. and Soriano, G. (2004), 'Forming couple relationships: adolescents' aspirations and young adults' actualities.' Family Matters no.68 Winter: 43-49. Abstract

Weston, R. (2004), 'Having children or not.' Family Matters no.69 Spring - Summer: 4-9. Abstract

Weston, R. and Qu, L. (2004), 'Dashed hopes? Fertility aspirations and expectations compared.' Family Matters no.69 Spring - Summer: 10-17. Abstract

Weston, R,, Qu, L., Parker, R. and Alexander, M. (2004), 'It's not for lack of wanting kids...' A report on the Fertility Decision Making Project. Melbourne, Vic: AIFS, 208p. Melbourne, Vic: Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2004, 25p, tables (Research report no.11)

Weston, R,, Gray, M., Qu, L., and Stanton, D. (2004), Long work hours and the wellbeing of fathers and their families. Melbourne, Vic: Australian Institute of Family Studies, 25p, (Research paper no.35)


de Vaus, D., Qu, L. and Weston, R. (2003), 'Changing patterns of partnering', Family Matters no.64 Autumn: 10-15. Paper (PDF 237 KB)

de Vaus, D., Qu, L. and Weston, R. (2003), 'Premarital cohabitation and subsequent marital stability.' Family Matters no.65 Winter: 34-39. Abstract

Qu, L. (2003), 'Minding the children during school holidays.' Family Matters no.65 Winter: 18-21. Abstract

Qu, L. (2003), 'Expectations of marriage among cohabiting couples' Family Matters no.64 Autumn: 36-39. Paper (PDF 179 KB)

Qu, L. and Weston, R. (2003), 'Ageing, living arrangements and subjective wellbeing.' Family Matters no.66 Spring/Summer: 26-33. Abstract

Weston, R., Parker, R. and Qu, L. (2003), 'Australia'. In: Ponzetti, J. J., ed., International encyclopedia of marriage and family. New York, NY: Macmillan Reference USA, 2nd ed., 2003, v.1, p127-133.

Weston, R., Qu, L. and Soriano, G. (2003), 'Australia's ageing yet diverse population.' Family Matters no.66 Spring/Summer: 6-13. Abstract


de Vaus, D. (2002), 'Marriage and mental health'. Family Matters no.62 Winter 2002: 26-32. Paper (PDF 524 KB)

de Vaus, D. (2002), 'Marriage, births and fertility'. Family Matters no.63 Winter: 36-39. Paper (PDF 290 KB)

Weston, R. and Parker, R. (2002), 'Why is the fertility rate falling? A discussion of the literature.' Family Matters no.63 Spring-Summer: 6-13. Paper (PDF 232 KB)

Family Law


Caruana, C. (2005), 'Changes to federal family law and state domestic violence legislation'. Family Matters no. 70 Autumn: 66-67. Abstract

Fehlberg, B. and Smyth, B. (2005), 'Binding prenuptial agreements in Australia: the first year'. In: Mulcahy, L. and Wheeler, S. eds. Feminist perspectives on contract law. Coogee, NSW: GlassHouse Press, 2005, p125-139.

Smyth, B. (2004), 'Parent-child contact in Australia: exploring five different post-separation patterns of parenting.'. International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family v.19 no.1 Apr: 1-22.

Smyth, B. and Weston, R. (2005), A snapshot of contemporary attitudes to child support.. Melbourne, Vic: Australian Institute of Family Studies. (AIFS Research report no.13)


Caruana, C. (2004), 'Legislating for shared parenting: the 'joint custody' inquiry makes recommendations for change'. Family Matters no. 67 Autumn: 16-19. Abstract

Caruana, C. (2004), 'Shared parenting and family law reform: the next instalment.'. Family Matters no.69 Spring - Summer 2004: 62-63. Abstract

Moloney, L. and Smyth, B. (2004), 'Family relationship centres in Australia: reflections based on research and practice.'. Family Matters no.69 Spring - Summer 2004: 64-70. Abstract

Parkinson, P. and Smyth, B. (2004), 'Satisfaction and dissatisfaction with father-child contact arrangements in Australia'. Child and Family Law Quarterly v.16 no.3: 289-304.

Rodgers, B., Smyth, B. and Robinson, E. (2004), 'Mental health and the family law system.' Journal of Family Studies v.10 no.1 April: 50-70.

Smyth, B., ed. (2004), Parent-child contact and post-separation parenting arrangements. Melbourne, Vic: Australian Institute of Family Studies. (AIFS Research report no.9)

Smyth, B. (2004), 'Child support policy in Australia. Back to basics?' Family Matters no. 67 Autumn: 42-45. Abstract

Smyth, B. (2004), 'Parent-child contact schedules after divorce.' Family Matters no.69 Spring - Summer 2004: 32-43. Abstract

Smyth, B. (2004), 'Post-separation fathering: A review of the issues and research in Australia'. In R. Fletcher, H. Fairbairn and S. Pascoe (eds), Fatherhood research in Australia, Family Action Centre, University of Newcastle.

Smyth, B. (2004), 'Postseparation fathering: what does Australian research tell us?' Journal of Family Studies v.10 no.1 Apr 2004: 20-49.

Smyth, B., Caruana, C. and Ferro, A. (2004), 'Father-child contact after separation: Profiling five different patterns of care',Family Matters no. 67 Autumn: 18-25. Abstract

Smyth, B. and Weston, R. (2004), 'The attitudes of separated mothers and fathers to 50/50 shared care.' Family Matters no. 67 Autumn: 4-11. Abstract


Caruana, C. (2003), 'The 'joint custody' debate: where to now?'. Family Matters no.66 Winter: 64-67. Abstract

Smyth, B., Caruana, C. and Ferro, A. (2003), 'Shared parenting: The views of separated parents with 50:50 care arrangements'. Family Matters no.65 Winter: 4-11. Abstract

Smyth, B., Caruana, C. and Ferro, A. (2003). Some whens, hows and whys of shared care: what separated parents who spend equal time with their children say about shared parenting. Paper presented at the SPRC Australian Social Policy Conference, University of New South Wales, July.


Caruana, C. (2002), 'Meeting the needs of self-represented litigants in family law matters'. Family Matters no.62 Winter: 38-42. Paper (PDF 112 KB)

Caruana, C. (2002), 'Relationship diversity and the law'. Family Matters no.63 Winter: 60-65. Paper (PDF 165 KB)

Fehlberg, B. and Smyth, B. (2002), 'Binding pre-nuptial agreements in Australia: the first year,' International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family v.16 no.1 Apr: 127-140.

Smyth, B. (2002), 'Child support for young adult children in Australia', International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family v.16 no.1 Apr: 22-37.

Smyth, B. (2002). Research into parent-child contact after parental separation: some methodological challenges. Family Matters no.62: 33-37. Paper (PDF 476 KB)

Smyth, B. and Ferro, A. (2002), When the difference is night and day: Parent-child contact after separation. Family Matters no.63: 54-59.Paper (PDF 195 KB)

Positive family relationships

Smyth, B. and Weston, R. (2003), 'Researching fathers: Back to basics'. Paper presented to National Strategic Conference on Fatherhood Parliament House Canberra, 18-19 August 2003. Paper

Weston, R., Gray, M., Qu, L. and Stanton, D. (2003), 'The impact of long working hours and employed fathers and their families'. Paper presented at the Australian Social Policy Conference, Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW, 9-11 July.

Parker, R. (2002), Why marriages last: a discussion of the literature,. Melbourne, Vic: Australian Institute of Family Studies, 26p. (Research paper no. 28)

Simons, M. and Parker, R. (2002), 'Relationship education services.' Family Matters no.63: 77-79. Paper (PDF 114 KB)

Simons, M. and Parker, R. (2002), A study of Australian relationship education service activities,. Canberra, ACT: Department of Family and Community Services, Online

Parker, R. (2001), 'Making marriages last,'. Family Matters no.60 Spring-Summer: 80-89. Paper (PDF 960 KB)


Weston, R. and Wooden, M. (2003), 'HILDA has arrived: New survey on Australian households and families'. Family Matters no.63 Spring-Summer: 66-73. Paper (416 KB)

Weston, R. and Wooden, M. (2003), 'The HILDA Survey and research on families.' Paper presented at 8th Australian Institute of Family Studies Conference, Melbourne, 12-14 February 2003. Paper (PDF 40 KB)