Dirty laundry in family law litigation
In recent weeks Nova Peris, Labor senator and Olympic gold medallist, has been placed in the unenviable position of having deeply private emails between herself and a former love interest aired in the public arena. It is alleged that the emails were released to place pressure on Ms Peris in the context of legal proceedings regarding the estate of her deceased former husband and the custody of her children.
It is not uncommon in family law proceedings to see allegations being made of past impropriety by an estranged spouse or partner, be they lies on tax returns or clandestine extramarital affairs. But where the Australian family law system is now a ‘no fault’ jurisdiction – no blame is placed on either party for the circumstances surrounding a separation – often these issues are of little relevance to the matters before the Court.
Particularly in the case of parenting proceedings, it is an unfortunate reality that children may at some stage obtain access (be it first or second-hand) to affidavit material sworn by their parents in the course of proceedings, and while family law judgments in Australia are anonymised before publishing, a person with intimate knowledge of a parties’ circumstances may well be in a position to uncover the relevant judgment. Family law proceedings are also usually conducted in an open Court which may be attended by members of the public.
The circumstances in which the salacious details of a person’s personal life do remain relevant in today’s family law proceedings are the growing area of litigation surrounding the existence of de facto relationships. In litigation of that type, the Court is charged with characterising the alleged relationship of a couple – and a wide range of factors, including the parties’ sexual relationships with each other and third parties, are likely to come under the Court’s consideration.
While the broadcast of Ms Peris’s personal emails has been exaggerated by the nature of her public identity, parallels may also be drawn with those in regular family law litigation. Her public humiliation may act as a reminder to those in the midst of Court battles that information once released cannot be recalled, no matter the collateral damage caused to those surrounding the parties to litigation.