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Media myths vs family law facts

The media has been full of “Divorce Day” stories – the idea that January is the time when there is a sudden rush of unhappy couples to sever their matrimonial ties. It’s true that family lawyers do tend to get an increased number of enquiries in early January for many reasons.

The Christmas period can put intense pressure on relationships, whether it’s financial, having to spend more time than usual with each other (and each other’s relatives), or the difficulties of dividing time between children from previous relationships and current ones. A heady mix of alcohol, over excited kids and a dodgy turkey can lead to frayed tempers, but most couples put it behind them and get back to normal come the new year. However for some, Christmas can be the final straw or the new year may be the time they resolve that a fresh start is best for the family. Even for those who decide amicably between them to separate there is often a “let’s get Christmas out of the way first” mentality.

Of course it is not really “Divorce Day” in the sense that the divorce does not actually happen on that day. Seeing a lawyer is only the first step in the process and it usually takes about 6 months to finalise the divorce itself, even if both parties agree on their financial arrangements and cooperate with the process.

There is no "quickie divorce"

Another media myth is the frequent reference to celebrities obtaining a “quickie divorce”. The latest is Louise and Jamie Redknapp who were granted a divorce “in 20 SECONDS!” (per one newspaper). In fact they are not yet divorced. What has happened is that the decree nisi – the first decree of divorce – has been pronounced by a judge in open court in a long list of other divorcing couples – the Redknapps' decree was not pronounced any faster or slower than anyone else’s. Further, they will have to wait for at least 6 weeks following the pronouncement of decree nisi before they can apply for the decree absolute which actually dissolves the marriage.

The idea of the “quickie” divorce is also applied to divorces based on one party’s behaviour. In this country you can divorce by consent if you have been separated for two years beforehand, and if you have been living apart for five years then you don’t need the other person’s consent. However if you don’t want to wait for this period of separation then you will need to seek a divorce either on the basis of the other party’s adultery or because they have behaved in a way which means you could not reasonably be expected to live with them. As mentioned above, this still takes a minimum of several months from start to finish, so the term “quickie” is something of a misnomer.

Finally, the media has declared that the detail of the Redknapps’ divorce has been kept secret by the courts, and that a judge has thrown a “blanket of secrecy” over the papers are extremely misleading. The detail contained in a divorce petition is private and not available to the general public. The elements of the divorce that are public are the fact that decree nisi (and in due course decree absolute) have been pronounced and on what date, together with the fact stated in support of the breakdown of the marriage – here it was behaviour (but it could be adultery or a period of separation). The details of any behaviour alleged, who else might have been involved etc. remain private between the parties.

Misreporting about family law in the media is common and the reality is usually much less sensational. Just as it’s best not to believe everything that the bloke in the pub tells you, if you find yourself in need of family law advice you really should ask an expert.

Published: 18 January 2018

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January 2018

Key Contact

Ros Bever