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Tying the knot, figuratively speaking: Married at First Sight’s FAQs answered

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It’s that time of year again when complete strangers pack up their lives, head to Sydney, and willingly enter the world of reality TV to partake in Australia’s most talked-about social experiment. As Attwood Marshall Lawyers Family Law Senior Associate Hayley Condon, our resident reality TV expert, gears up for the latest season of Married at First Sight, she is ready to tackle some of the most commonly asked questions posed by viewers tuning in to witness the unique spectacle of strangers tying the knot – figuratively speaking, of course.

The stage is set, and as the Australian public eagerly anticipates the unveiling of this season’s couples, one thing is sure: we’re in for sweet meet-cutes, dramatic honeymoons, scandals, and those cringe-worthy moments we can’t look away from.

Year after year, Married at First Sight dominates free-to-air TV, capturing our collective attention. Why? Because we, the Australian public, love tapping into our inherent curiosity about relationships and the quest for true love. We also don’t mind a bit of drama when strangers attempt to live together as married couples.

We know the producers will deliver a rollercoaster of emotions – from the awkwardness felt at the altar to the heart-warming moments of connection and the inevitable drama and scandal that arise as couples navigate the experiment and get on each other’s nerves while they compare their relationships at the weekly group dinner parties.

Viewers find themselves hooked and deeply invested in the journey of the couples. While most setups on the show may seem doomed, the show has, against the odds, delivered a few success stories over the years.

Out of the 72 matches made over the past ten seasons, five couples have managed to stay together, with three couples even taking the plunge and legally marrying.

Beyond the realm of reality TV, arranged marriages do happen in Australia. While weddings on MAFs are not legally binding, the couples could choose to legally marry during the experiment if they complete and lodge a Notice of Intended Marriage form at least one month before the ceremony.

As we settle in on the couch, popcorn in hand, ready for the roller coaster ride that is sure to be MAFs season 11, we address some common questions viewers may have:

Are arranged marriages legal in Australia?

Yes. Arranged marriages are legal in Australia. As long as both parties are 18 years of age (or have court approval to marry where one person is between 16 -18 years of age), freely and willingly consent to the marriage, it is considered valid regardless of how the couple met.

However, it is crucial to distinguish arranged marriages from forced marriages, which are illegal in Australia. Forced marriage is an abuse of human rights. It involves coercion, threats, and duress to pressure someone into marrying against their will.

Forcing someone to get married in Australia is a punishable offence. Anyone involved in this crime could receive up to nine years imprisonment or if a child is taken overseas and forced into marriage up to 25 years imprisonment.

Can you marry a stranger in Australia?

While entering the commitment of marriage with a stranger is not advisable, you can marry a stranger if you wish.

When entering marriage in Australia, there are specific requirements designed to prevent fraudulent marriages and protect vulnerable people.

The Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) requires anyone who intends to marry to file a Notice of Intended Marriage (NOIM) with a registered celebrant (civil celebrant or religious celebrant) at least one month before getting married.

This process allows for potential objections to be raised and protecting individuals from being rushed into marriage, particularly with someone they barely know.

Can you change your mind and get a marriage annulled?

You can only apply for an annulment in Australia if your marriage is not valid from the outset. A marriage will be void if:

    • There is lack of consent – if one party forced the other or pressured them into marriage.
    • Bigamy exists – if one party was already legally married to someone else at the time of the marriage.
    • A prohibited relationship exists – if the parties to the marriage are in a relationship that is prohibited by law. Such as a party marrying a parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, brother, or sister.
    • An individual has lack of Capacity – If one party was not of sound mind or had the legal capacity to marry at the time (i.e., too young to marry).
    • Fraud – if one party made a false or misleading statement about themselves or their intentions to induce the other party into marriage or one party was mistaken as to the nature of the ceremony performed.

    Annulment is different from divorce; it essentially declares that the marriage never legally existed.

    If the marriage was valid and legal, an application for divorce would need to be filed to dissolve the marriage. To apply for a divorce in Australia, you must be able to prove that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. To establish this, the applicant must satisfy the court that the parties have lived separately (which can include being under the same roof) for at least 12 months and that in the opinion of the applicant there is no reasonable likelihood of the parties resuming married life.  

    If you intend on applying for a divorce but have not been married for two years, then you must attend counselling with a family counsellor to discuss the possibility of reconciliation and must file the certificate completed by the counsellor with your application. In exceptional circumstances, the court may grant permission for the divorce application to proceed within two years of the marriage.  An example of this is where domestic violence is a factor, it would then not be safe for a party to participate in counselling.  

    The divorce system that exists in Australia is “no-fault” meaning that a spouse does not need to prove that the other spouse was at fault or has done something wrong for the divorce to be granted. Prior to the introduction of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) obtaining a divorce was a complicated process.  It was not simply enough to be separated.  A spouse had to prove a “ground” for divorce, such as adultery, desertion, cruelty, habitual drunkenness, imprisonment, or insanity with the only exception being if a couple had been separated for five years, then no other ground would need to be proved. 

    To prove marital fault, a spouse would need to engage not only a solicitor but a private investigator or detective to assist them in gathering evidence to support their chosen ground of divorce.

    If the marriages on MAFS were legal and the system of divorce prior to the introduction of the Family Law Act applied, the divorce cases before the court after the conclusion of the show would be another show in itself, given the highs and lows of the social experiment each year.  Based on past series of MAFS, one could expect the divorce applications of the MAFS marriages that do work out to feature grounds of adultery, desertion, cruelty and, quite frankly, insanity for participating in the show to begin with!  

    Attwood Marshall Lawyers – helping people navigate relationships and separation

    Whether entering a new relationship, or dealing with the consequences of a relationship breakdown, it is important to get trusted legal advice from a qualified family lawyer to understand your legal rights and obligations under family law.

    At Attwood Marshall Lawyers, we have a team of family lawyers who practice exclusively in this complex area. Our team can handle all aspects of family law including executing binding financial agreements at the start of a new relationship, assisting with divorce applications, or helping couples negotiate property settlements and parenting arrangements after separation.

    For expert family law advice, please contact our Family Law Department Manager, Donna Tolley, on direct line 07 5506 8241, email dtolley@attwoodmarshall.com.au or free call 1800 621 071.

    You can also book an appointment with our family lawyers instantly using our online booking app.

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    Hayley Condon - Senior Associate - Wills & Estates, Family Law

    Hayley Condon

    Senior Associate
    Wills & Estates, Family Law

    Contact the author

    Disclaimer
    The contents of this article are considered accurate as at the date of publication. The information contained in this article does not constitute legal advice and is of a general nature only. Readers should seek legal advice about their specific circumstances. 

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