Divorce Vouchers for Unhappy Newlyweds to Attend Counselling

by Peter Magee on May 2, 2014

Peter Magee

In an online article published on Ninemsn.com on 23 January 2014, Ms Natasha Lee discusses the Federal Government endorsement of a $20 million trial that will see newlyweds provided with $200 vouchers enabling them to attend counselling or educative courses. This trial is scheduled to begin on 1 July this year in an attempt to save unsteady marriages by encouraging couples to explore Alternate Dispute Resolution, rather than simply resorting to filing for divorce. Whilst the divorce vouchers are primarily aimed at providing assistance to newlyweds, in some circumstances, the vouchers will be made available to couples in long term relationships as well as same sex couples.

The rationale behind the divorce vouchers has received strong support by community groups since it is aimed at protecting the sanctity of marriage, while simultaneously encouraging positive and loving environments for children of a marriage that may be on the rocks. Mr Kevin Andrews, Social Services Minister, has demonstrated his support for the rollout of the vouchers, as highlighted by Ms Lee, in the sense that “The evidence shows that strong relationships between parents make a substantial difference to a child”.

In Australia, the Court does not look into the reasons why a marriage has broken down as divorce proceedings are based on a “no fault” system. When the Court is asked to determine a divorce matter, its primary consideration is whether a marriage has irretrievably broken down which is usually proven by a 12 month period of separation (prior to filing for divorce). To that end, there must be no likelihood in the eyes of the Court of reconciliation. Of course, there are further considerations if there are children of the marriage under the age of 18 years or if the parties remained living under the same roof while they were separated.

When it comes to filing for divorce after a short marriage, under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) in cases where the marriage was less than 2 years, the Application for Divorce will not be accepted for filing by the Court Registry without the appropriate certificate of a qualified counsellor or mediator. This certificate must say the parties genuinely attempted reconciliation, however, were not successful. If this certificate cannot be obtained, the party seeking to file the Application for Divorce will need to ask the Court for permission to do so.

It is my view that the purpose of the divorce vouchers (especially in relation to newlyweds) is to highlight existing Alternate Dispute Resolution already available to couples and provide them with the financial means to utilise such options. If financial issues were an excuse to avoid marriage counselling, the rollout of the divorce vouchers now almost means there is no reason why couples should not attempt counselling before deciding to end a marriage, which will then benefit any children of the marriage if divorce is avoided. I believe the divorce vouchers may reduce the number of newlyweds who assume they have no other option in an unhappy marriage but to ensure they have been married for 2 years, which can include the requisite 12 month separation period, before filing for divorce. In saying that, I understand that every relationship is different and therefore, it goes without saying that the use of the divorce vouchers will not be successful in every case.

If you consider your marriage has broken down and are unsure as to the legal requirements that need to be satisfied in order to obtain a divorce, please do not hesitate to contact our experienced divorce lawyers at Armstrong Legal on (02) 9261 4555.

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