“If you thought I was the worst wife, you don’t want me as your worst enemy”
These were the last words uttered by “wife” Cyrell Paule to her “husband” Nic Jovanovic during a heated radio interview last week. It is, therefore, no surprise that the pair ended their marriage on Sunday night’s episode of Married At First Sight (MAFS) after a tumultuous relationship on this season of the controversial show. During the airing of the highs and lows of their marriage, Cyrell has been vocal in the media about her opinion of her former husband. There is no love lost between the pair. Cyrell will not be silenced.
If this was a real marriage then an acrimonious divorce would most likely follow. But it is not. MAFS is a highly produced television program where participants enter into fake marriages with a complete stranger on the premise of finding the “one” but on-screen drama and entertainment value is the priority of the show.
MAFS participants are put in real life situations that would be experienced by ordinary couples at some stage during their relationship hence the reason viewers can relate to the program and the journey of the participants, but in circumstances where the participants have no history and are being forced to live together intimately, meet families and discuss their future after the show, it is rare that the marriages survive the experiment and last into the future. The pressure of the contrived situations often becomes too much for MAFS participants and relationships implode on national television.
While MAFS does shine a light on social and relationship issues that are often experienced by couples (lack of communication, productive dispute resolution, impact of infidelity to name a few) it makes a mockery of the institution of marriage and sends a concerning message to young viewers that divorce is the easy option if things become tough.
Parting ways after the breakdown of a marriage is not as simple as removing your wedding ring and singing all the ‘single ladies’ as Cyrell did at the dinner party last Wednesday night. It can be a lengthy process that is emotionally draining with a financial impact.
Divorce in Australia – the law
Before an application for divorce can be filed with the Federal Circuit Court of Australia to dissolve a marriage, the parties to the marriage must be separated for 12 months. If the parties have been married for less than 2 years at the time they become eligible to file a divorce application with the Court, the application cannot be filed unless a prescribed certificate evidencing counselling accompanies the application or leave of the Court is granted.
This means that if one spouse or both parties to a short marriage (i.e. a marriage of no more than 12 months in duration) want to file a divorce application at the end of the expiration of the 12 month separation period they must participate in counselling together to properly consider the possibility of reconciliation before filing the application unless they want to incur legal costs in obtaining the permission of the Court. Where a marriage breakdown is bitter, parties do not normally want to participate in counselling with their estranged spouse. Therefore, the only way to avoid these requirements is to wait until 2 years has passed from the date of marriage to file the divorce application.
If Cyrell and Nic were legally married on MAFS, their marriage only subsisted for approximately 7 weeks. Therefore, if Nic did not want to participate in counselling with cyclone Cyrell he would need to wait another 10 ½ months (approx) after the expiration of the 12 month separation period to file an application for divorce.
Property Settlement after divorce
The property owned by the parties to the marriage or in which they hold an equitable interest either individually or jointly will ordinarily be included in the asset pool available for division between them (including real property, superannuation, proceeds of bank accounts, shareholding in companies etc). When determining what property settlement order to make, if any, the Court will consider the contributions made by each party during the marriage and post separation (namely financial, non-financial, parenting and homemaking contributions) and the future needs of the parties to the marriage. The court has a wide discretion when it comes to making property settlement orders.
Any application must be made by a party to the marriage within 12 months of the date the divorce order takes effect (i.e. within 12 months of the date of termination of the marriage by divorce). Applications can be made outside of this time period but only with the leave of the Court if hardship would be suffered by a party if not granted or the consent of the other spouse is obtained, which in an acrimonious separation is rare.
In short marriages of 5 years or less in duration where there are no children, such as in the case of Cyrell and Nic, the focus of the Court when determining a property settlement claim is the financial contributions of the parties.
In circumstances where the parties to a short marriage have largely kept their financial affairs separate, the Court does not have to make a property adjustment order. The case law indicates that in this instance the Court would not be inclined to make an order on the basis that it would not be just and equitable to do so.
So what does this mean for Cyrell and Nic. Very little since they were not legally married to each other, but if they had been, Nic would need to tread carefully until the limitation period for Cyrell making a property settlement claim had expired. We know from the show that Nic owns a home. Cyrell resides with her parents. Therefore, Nic has something to lose.
In light of Cyrell’s present hatred towards Nic she may be inclined to pursue him for a property settlement in a form of misguided revenge. Whilst Cyrell has the ability to make a property settlement claim against Nic and can file an application with the Court seeking such orders, it would not be recommended that she do so because after 7 weeks of marriage it is highly unlikely that a Family Law Court would make an order requiring Nic to pay her a property settlement. An outcome where Cyrell received a settlement from Nic would not be just or equitable.
Notwithstanding this, if Cyrell decided to engage a solicitor to make a claim against Nic without instituting Court proceedings Nic could still end up spending thousands of dollars with solicitors dealing with any demands made by Cyrell although she has a very weak claim.
Fortunately for Nic none of this will become a reality as they were not married.
Their separation would have been further complicated if Cyrell and Nic had fallen pregnant during the experiment. After the birth of the child they would have needed to consider the future parenting arrangements for the child as well as child support issues. No doubt Cyrell and Nic would have very different views on those issues (not to mention Cyrell’s protective brother Ivan) and due to the toxic state of their relationship, their dispute would not have been easy to resolve and most likely would have required court intervention.
The above points are just a few of the issues that separating couples must face after the breakdown of their marriage. Separation is not a simple process as alluded to on MAFS.
While the separation of Cyrell and Nic occurred several months ago during filming, Cyrell continues to harbour very strong feelings towards her former husband based on her media interviews and social media posts. What is driving her behaviour is not known but may have something to do with the persistent rumours that Nic cheated on her during the experiment with Jessika. While the show is fake the raw emotions of the participants are not.
While Cyrell is left to pick up the pieces after her portrayal on the show, the program will move on. The focus this week will no doubt be the discovery of Jessika and Dan’s affair with producers focusing on the moment that their respective husband and wife hear the news – more divorces ahead.
Hayley Condon is a Senior Associate with Attwood Marshall Lawyers. She has practised in family law for over 16 years. Hayley is a member of the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia and Family Law Practitioners Association.
If you require advice in relation to a Family Law matter, please contact our Family Law Department on 1800 621 071.