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Family Law Act celebrates 40 years

This week marks the 40-year anniversary of the Family Law Act, which relaxed restrictions around divorce in Australia.

The introduction of the legislation in 1975 gave people greater freedom to leave unhealthy and abusive relationships, according to Diana Dichiera, a partner at South Australia-based law firm Tindall Gask Bentley.

Before the Family Law Act was introduced, it was more difficult to obtain a divorce as couples had to prove they had been separated for five years or that one was at fault in the marriage breakdown.

Among the grounds for divorce were adultery, persistent refusal to have sexual intercourse, serious criminal convictions, habitual drunkenness and being of unsound mind, according to TGB.

“Divorce was much more difficult and an often publicly humiliating process, and in many cases it trapped people in abusive and unhealthy relationships,” said Ms Dichiera.

"It was not uncommon for a spouse to oppose the divorce. In order to prove the grounds of fault, a private detective or lawyer would be employed to collect evidence.”

The Family Law Act removed all grounds for divorce, with couples only needing to demonstrate that the relationship had broken down irretrievably, established by a 12-month period of separation.

"While some say that it is now too easy to get a divorce and exit a marriage, the decline in life-long marriages can somewhat be explained by changing society values and greater gender equality,” said Ms Dichiera.

“The Family Law Act allows people to leave unhappy marriages and move forward with their lives."

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