A man has an affair with a woman he met at work.
He was married to his estranged wife for twenty-four years and has four daughters with her.
His girlfriend is now seven months pregnant with his fifth child.
Spotted this weekend with his girlfriend house hunting in the holiday suburb of South West Rocks on the Coast of NSW, former deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is facing scrutiny and condemnation across Australia.
From the outside, Mr Joyce’s situation is not uncommon at all.
Approximately one-third of all Australian marriages end in divorce, and people frequently remarry in later life.
But whether he is a politician in Parliament House in Canberra or an office worker with a regular nine-to-five in any other city, this is a situation that could get quite complex under family law.
Barnaby Joyce, 50, is the leader of the National Party and the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia.
Born in Tamworth, he began his political career as a Senator for Queensland, before moving to the House of Representatives by winning the seat of New England in New South Wales.
It is his personal life, rather than his political position, that has made headlines recently.
On 23 February 2018, he announced that he would resign from his positions and return to the party’s backbench as of 26 February 2018.
In 1993 he married Natalie Abberfield and in December last year it was announced that they had separated.
Their four daughters, Bridgette, Julia, Caroline and Odette, are aged between 21 and 15.
Barnaby Joyce is separated from his wife. This is part of the process before a married couple can divorce each other.
Natalie Joyce is referred to in media reports as Mr Joyce’s “estranged wife” rather than his “ex-wife” as they are separated, not divorced.
Earlier this month it came to light that Vikki Campion, a former staffer at Parliament House, is pregnant with Mr Joyce’s child.
The baby is due in April.
Ms Campion, 33, first worked as a journalist in her native Queensland before moving into roles as a media advisor to several politicians in the National Party.
From May 2016 to April 2017 she was employed as media advisor to Barnaby Joyce.
Reportedly, she left the Deputy Prime Minister’s office when knowledge of their affair began creating tensions in the workplace.
She has since worked in the offices of Minister for Resources Matt Canavan and Nationals MP Damian Drum.
The political issues surrounding these circumstances have dominated the news, as reports of higher paying jobs created for Ms Campion and Mr Joyce’s use of taxpayer dollars to spend extra nights in Canberra have come to light.
However, much of this parliamentary predicament is tied up with family law.
Separation and Divorce
A couple must be separated for 12 months before they can apply for a divorce.
They need to prove this separation to the court. Generally, they will have lived separately during this time, although it is possible to still be separated but living in the same house.
Australian law follows the rule of no-fault divorce under the Family Law Act 1975.
This means that there is no need for either party of the married couple to provide grounds for the divorce other than that the marriage has broken down and that the couple will in all likelihood not get back together.
The court is not concerned about any other reasons.
However, if a divorcing couple has children under 18 years of age, appropriate arrangements must be made for them before the court can grant a divorce.
De Facto Relationships
Barnaby Joyce is now in a de facto relationship with Vikki Campion, as they live together and are expecting a baby.
He is still technically married to Natalie Joyce, however, a de facto relationship can still exist if either party is married to someone else.
When two people are living together as a couple on what the Family Law Act 1975 describes as a “genuine domestic basis,” and the couple are not legally married nor are they related to each other, this is called a de facto relationship.
People of the same or opposite sex can be in a de facto relationship.
A de facto couple may have children, and disputes about the children of a de facto relationship are treated in the same way by the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court as disputes about the children of a married couple.
De Facto Partners
There has been some question over whether Ms Campion is indeed Mr Joyce’s partner, as news reports recently revealed that he has not yet listed her as his partner on official records.
This has further implications within Parliament as Ms Campion was moved to a new position as a parliamentary staffer shortly after the affair began.
According to the ministerial code of conduct, the Prime Minister must give approval if a minister’s family member or partner is employed at Parliament House.
Spokespersons for the government have stated that Ms Campion was not Mr Joyce’s partner at this time, and it is understood that they were not yet living together
Separation, De Facto Relationships and Marriage
Similar to disputes involving children, the financial and property disputes of a broken down de facto relationship are managed in the same way by the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court as the financial disputes of a married couple.
This is the case since 1 March 2009, when new Commonwealth laws were introduced.
The separated de facto couple must satisfy the court that one of the following applies to them:
- The de facto relationship lasted for at least two years
- The de facto couple have a child together
- One partner made significant contributions, whether financial or non-financial for example as a homemaker, and it would therefore be an injustice if the financial order was not made
- The de facto relationship is registered in a State or Territory in accordance with laws for the registration of relationships
An application to a Family Law Court must be made within two years of the de facto relationship ending.
For a married relationship, this limit is up to 12 months after the divorce has been finalised.
Outside of these time periods, it is necessary to request special permission of a court.
If Barnaby Joyce does not reconcile with his estranged wife Natalie, he will be a liable for a property settlement in an ensuing divorce.
A property settlement is an agreement between two ex-spouses on the division of property.
This includes the family home, cars and bank accounts, as well as debts, investments, shares, superannuation and any businesses that the couple may hold.
A former couple may agree or disagree on how they wish their assets to be divided.
It is possible to reach an agreement without the court becoming involved.
If this is the case, the former partners may choose to apply for consent orders in the Family Court to make their agreement official.
If neither person can agree, they may apply for financial orders.
These relate to the division of property and the payment of spousal maintenance.
Separating couples may decide to consider superannuation – including the valuation of superannuation and the division of superannuation payments – in a different way from other assets, but this is not compulsory.
The court will look at several principles in a financial dispute, including the value of assets and debts, the financial and non-financial contributions of each party to the relationship, and each person’s future requirements.
These main principles are the same, whether the couple in question were in a de facto or a married relationship.
The resolution of a property settlement is entirely based on the individual situation in question.
If they remain separated for 12 months and then wish to divorce, Barnaby and Natalie Joyce may agree on how they wish to divide their assets and debts.
If not, they would follow the usual procedures to apply for a property settlement in the Family Court.
Should Barnaby Joyce and Vikki Campion later choose to end their relationship, the circumstances would be similar. Mr Joyce would be liable for the same property settlement as he and Ms Campion are de facto partners.
The Impact of High-Profile Relationships
Separation, divorce, new relationships and remarriages are common in Australian everyday life, whether the people involved are federal politicians, celebrities, your neighbours or your own family.
This high-profile situation provides an example of the systems in place for regular families finding themselves in the same position.
By: Emma Green & Hayder Shkara
Principal of Justice Family Lawyers, Hayder specialises in complex parenting and property family law matters. He is based in Sydney and holds a Bachelor of Law and Bachelor of Communications from UTS.