How Far We've Come with NGS Super - The introduction of no-fault divorce

Part 4: The introduction of no-fault divorce

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Take me back to 1975... 
It was a time when flared pants and disco ruled the dance floor, and the political scene was as colourful as the fashion. Gough Whitlam was the PM, promising big reforms like free university education, universal healthcare, and indigenous land rights.

Didn't he end up getting sacked that year?
He sure did. But before he got the boot, Whitlam passed the Family Act, which introduced no-fault divorce and established the Family Court of Australia.

So you couldn't get a divorce before then?
You could, but it could be a bit of a nightmare. That's because you had to prove that your partner was to blame for the breakdown of the marriage. And we're not talking about just any old reason here.There was a list of 14 reasons you could provide, including your partner was drunk, insane or an adulterer.

Salacious stuff.
Definitely, there was even a TV show called Divorce Court that would re-enact recent divorce hearings. If you were one of the unlucky ones stuck in a miserable marriage and wanted out, you had to have evidence to prove your case. Some couples mutually looking for one staged their own versions of what was called the “Brighton Quickie”.

Which was... 
An old English trick whereby a couple would stage an adulterous scene at a Brighton hotel – typically involving the husband and another woman – with a private investigator on hand to capture the evidence.

So people were calling for a new law?
Absolutely, and in 1975, Australia implemented the Family Law Act which brought no-fault divorce to the country. This was a huge step forward for women and people in abusive relationships who wanted to leave without public humiliation.

I imagine there was a huge rise in divorce rates...
To give you an idea, when it first came into law, people queued around the block to get divorced. But while some were thrilled, others weren’t...

Uh oh... 
A man called Leonard John Warwick - unhappy with his treatment in the newly instated family court - embarked on a series of shootings and bombings - ultimately killing 3 people, including a judge.

That's awful.
It really is. Since then, the Family Act has been under constant scrutiny and has undergone numerous inquiries and amendments. Some people argue that it's expensive, unfair, and unenforceable. And either way, it remains a complex and highly charged issue that affects millions of Aussies.

Where are we today?

If you want to get a divorce today, you and your partner have to be separated for 12 months. You submit an online application to the Family Court, pay a filing fee (around $1000) and you’re divorced.

A titbit: Although women are more likely to initiate divorce, they are also far more likely to suffer financially from it.

Why it's important: Divorce and defacto relationship breakdowns can affect everything from property ownership to superannuation. And it's a key reason why 40% of retired single women are living under the property line.

The numbers:
2.2 -  in every 1000 Aussies are divorced. And it's worth noting that the total number of divorces between 2020 and 2021 increased by almost 14%. That's the highest in over a decade and may have something to do with those COVID lockdowns...

$1.2 billion - the amount of outstanding child support payments according to the ABS. Women make up 80% of all single-parent households in the country.

5 - the average number of years it takes women to recover financially from a divorce. But the financial effects on their savings and superannuation can go on for much longer.

Where to from here?

• The Family Act of 1975 established the Family Court of Australia to privately deal with matters surrounding divorce, property settlement and child custody disputes. Since then, the legislation has undergone several major changes and reviews.

• The latest review was commissioned under the Turnbull government and completed in 2019. It made a number of recommendations, including giving more power to the states and territories to make decisions on family law disputes, getting rid of the rule that parents have to share responsibility for their children, and making it easier to divide property.

• Off the back of that, the Albanese Government released draft legislation with the goal is to make sure that children's needs and safety come first in family law cases. That was in January this year, and the legislation is currently open for consultation - so watch this space.

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