Divorce – The Details
Australia does not recognize “fault” based divorces; rather one must show that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. One may only show such a break down by establishing that the parties in fact separated, and have lived apart for at least 12 continuous months prior to filing an application for divorce. Bear in mind that the day the parties separate is not counted in the 12 month calculation. Thus, the application for divorce may not be filed until twelve months and one day have passed since separation.
While the above requirements seem fairly straightforward, a lot of questions can arise with regard to divorce. This article is designed to give you an in depth look into all of the issues surrounding divorce and answer any questions you may have.
What constitutes separation?
First, showing a physical separation between the parties for the specified time period is not enough to establish legal separation. Legal separation is more than mere physical separation, and must also evidence a breakdown of the marital relationship.
Whether parties are actually separated is going to differ from case to case, and is largely a question of fact. The law requires a substantial breakdown of the marital relationship be shown, but there is no further clarification as to what exactly that means. Australian courts have carved out three elements that are required in order to establish a valid legal separation.
- Intent. Both parties must intend to either sever or not resume the marital relationship.
- Action. The parties must act on their intent, or act as though the relationship has ended.
- Unilateral Action. If only one party considers the relationship has ended, that party must communicate such to the other party.
You may have noticed that physical separation is missing from the above elements. Does that mean that you can have a valid legal separation while still living in the same home? Surprisingly, the answer is yet. The Family Law Act of 1975 addresses this issue head on and specifically states that a separation can exist even where the parties have continued to reside in the same residence.
Bear in mind however, that courts are cognizant of false claims of separation so it is advised that the parties have evidence to corroborate that they are separated despite living under the same roof. The aforementioned elements of intent and action must still exist, so if you chose to remain roommates while separated, make sure you can still prove both. Also, you will have to submit an affidavit which details the arrangements you have made with regard to where each party sleeps, the extent of household services rendered, if there are separate bank accounts, etc. You are also required to have a witness, such as a family member, friend, or neighbor submit an independent affidavit to corroborate your separation.
Remaining in the same house during your separation may have some benefits, for instance, it is less expensive, and if you have children it will be less disruptive on their lives. However, if you chose such an arrangement you must be prepared to disclose personal information such as sleeping arrangements to the court in your affidavit.
What about the resumption of cohabitation?
Say you separate, and then a few months into your separation you and your ex decide to try and make things work. You move back in with your ex and give it a shot. What effect does this have on your otherwise valid separation?
First, resuming cohabitation is not as easy as simply moving back in together – as we discussed previously, you can still be legally separated and living under the same roof. In order for cohabitation to affect your separation, your new relationship needs to look similar to the way it did when you were married. For instance, simply moving back in together will not be enough to establish the status of resumption of cohabitation, this only exists when the relationship mirrors, or is substantially similar to your previous relationship. Additionally the occasional slip up, or casual acts of intercourse will not be enough to establish a resumption of cohabitation.
The major thing to keep in mind regarding resumption of cohabitation is how long the cohabitation lasts. Should your reconciliation last less than three months, you are permitted to count the time you were separated prior to getting back together in calculating the twelve months of separation required before being eligible to apply for a divorce. On the other hand, if your reconciliation lasts for three months or longer, you must begin a new twelve-month period of separation before you may file an application for divorce.
If you resume cohabitation after you have already filed for divorce, it may be grounds for the court to refuse your application. The court will look at your relationship as of the date of the hearing (not the date you filed your application), to determine if the application should be denied based on reconciliation. The party wishing to show the reconciliation must bring evidence in support of her argument. However, a reconciliation after filing for divorce does not mean your application will automatically be denied. The court will look at your unique circumstances and make a decision based on such.
How do I apply for divorce?
After you have been legally separated for twelve months, you, your partner or both of you jointly may file for divorce. However, the court will only entertain an application filed by a party who is a citizen of Australia, has been an ordinary resident in Australia for at least twelve months prior to filing, or is domiciled in Australia.
The actual application form can be downloaded at www.fmc.gov, and may be filed in the Federal Circuit Court in all states and territories. However, in Western Australia your application must be filed in the Family Court of Wester Australia. Should you prefer to have a lawyer apply for a divorce on your behalf, go to www.divorce-online.com.au.
If you and your ex are not filing jointly for divorce, but rather you are unilaterally filing the application, you will need to serve your ex spouse with the following documents.
- A sealed copy of the application for divorce
- A copy of the brochure Marriage, Families and Separation
- The form of acknowledgment of service
- Copies of any additional documents filed with the court
- If served by post, a stamped self addressed envelope
There are two ways in which you can effectuate service; you can do so by post, or personally by a person other than yourself who is over the age of 18. If you are serving someone in Australia, you must do so 28 days prior to the hearing date. If service is taking place outside of Australia then it must take place at least 42 days before the hearing. Additionally, if you know your ex spouse is represented by a lawyer, you should check with their lawyer as they may have been instructed to accept service on their client’s behalf.
If you are unable to locate the person you wish to serve, the court can either permit substituted service or dispensation of service. In either case you will need to apply this type of service, and submit an affidavit explaining why the respondent cannot be located. The court will only grant your application if it is satisfied that you have taken the appropriate steps to locate the respondent prior to filing an application for substituted service or dispensation of service.
What happens at the divorce hearing?
Once you have successfully submitted your application for divorce, and served your ex spouse, there will be a hearing. If you filed your application for divorce jointly the hearing will take place within 28 days of filing, otherwise the hearing will take place within 42 days after the filing (56 days if the respondent is not in Australia).
If your application for divorce is successful, the court will issue an order for divorce. This order will automatically take effect one month after the order is granted. Should reconciliation take place after the order is issued but prior to the order taking effect, the court has the discretion to rescind the divorce order.
It is important to bear in mind that your application and hearing for divorce is limited to just that. This is not the venue for you to raise issues regarding support, maintenance, and child support. The court has an interest in making sure that arrangements have been made with regard to any children affected by the divorce, but no matters beyond such arrangements will be raised at the divorce hearing.