On Valentine’s Day, Bec Dahl, Partner at Nicholes Family Law, lifts the veil to reveal the truth behind Married at First Sight’s approach to weddings and divorce.
MAFS has shown us that everything wedding-related can be a magic – if not combustible – mix of titillation, scandal, drama and emotion.
But MAFS has set a standard that turns the make-believe magic of weddings into ‘make-do’ or simply ‘make-happen’ – both at the start and the end of a marriage!
As family lawyers, we get a lot of questions from people who want to whisk (preferably on the back of a unicorn) their partners off to the land of fairy tale happy ever after on the day they propose: getting married right then and there – and often on 14 February, Valentine’s Day.
It is at this point that, as a family lawyer, I feel compelled to interrupt the story and proffer the following (most probably unwelcome) advice:
- You cannot get married simply by walking down an aisle with a person you have just met and standing in front of a group of people paid to look like they are happy and thinking this is the best decision you have ever made
- You cannot get divorced by storming out of a dinner party or simply waiting for both parties to write ‘leave’ on their cards
- There are things you should think about before you propose to your partner – on Valentine’s Day (you’d better get a move on) – or otherwise.
Contrary to public opinion (and MAFS), before the nails are painted, the prewedding parties (and pranks) take place, the bridal party politics navigated and the couple finally walks down the aisle to say their “I dos”, the following steps should be taken or at least considered:
- You must meet the technical legal requirements. That is, a notice of intended marriage must be lodged at least a month before the wedding date,
- A registered civil marriage celebrant (or authorised minister of religion) must be engaged and at least two witnesses must sign the marriage certificate.
- The celebrant must follow the wording set out in the legislation, which incidentally . . . is not the wording the ‘celebrants’ use in MAFS.
- You should think about entering into a Binding Financial Agreement (‘BFA’) to formalise how property, assets, superannuation, and liabilities would be divided in the event of the marriage ending. Known more commonly as a ‘prenup’, a BFA can also deal with financial support, including spousal maintenance.
Once married (or de facto), if your relationship runs into challenges and you decide to separate, then, before the cutlery and crockery is divided into two, the dog or the cat has two homes, and the friends are put into “my friend/your friend” buckets, here are some important family law things to consider:
- If a BFA has not been entered into, take stock of the assets in the relationship and discuss how these ought to be distributed between you and your former partner. Ideally, the division of assets will be made by agreement and should be formalised with or without the assistance of lawyers, although it is always a good idea to get the advice of a family lawyer to ensure you are receiving what you are justifiably and legally entitled to.
- If an agreement cannot be reached on parenting or property matters (by “property” we mean all assets and liabilities), consider mediation as a route for resolving any potential disputes. Mediation involves an interactive process where you and your former partner are assisted by an impartial third party to resolve the dispute before considering going to Court.
- An application for a divorce can only be made after 12 months of separation. This does not necessarily mean physical separation – it is acceptable to live under the same roof while being separated. The same time frame must pass before any application is made relating to property settlement.
- Try to agree on parenting arrangements, again ideally by agreement between parents directly, or with the help of a Mediator.
More information about BFAs can be found on our website at https://nicholeslaw.com.au/our-expertise/binding-financial-agreements/.
Being a family law firm there are also of course sections on our website about separation and divorce, but, as it is Valentine’s Day today, may all your dreams, MAFS-inspired and otherwise, come true.