One in two marriages end in divorce, but for a lot of warring couples, whether children are involved or not, the stakes are financially and emotionally too high to rule out a possible reconciliation.
Last month, reports surfaced that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were working to “consciously recouple” after spiritual counselling sessions and his promise to stop drinking.
“They decided to make a fresh start,” the couple’s biographer Ian Halperin recently said, while Angelina admitted “we’re all trying our best to heal our family”.
Then came sightings of power couple Anthony Bell and Kelly Landry working together to put parenthood first by attending “parenting workshops”, according to friends.
Only months earlier the pair were engaged in one of the most vitriolic court disputes Sydney has seen over their failed marriage.
It was nasty stuff.
Landry claimed in court during a failed AVO attempt that she felt threatened in the relationship and implied infidelity; Bell accused her of having a drinking problem.
But as the couple appear to be attempting to salvage their high-profile relationship, there is a new approach to salvaging the best bits of a marriage.
Alongside counselling and parenting workshops, a “reconciliation contract” for marriages is now being used by lawyers in the US to settle grievances before divorce.
A more emotionally charged version of a pre or post nuptial agreement, the contract combines promises of conduct with how assets and finances might be divvied up should the contract fail.
In Australia, under the Family Law Act, prenuptial agreements are legally referred to as Binding Financial Agreements and can be entered into at all stages of a relationship, including before a reconciliation.
But other than the financial conditions, those for behaviour are only “acts of good faith” under Australian law.
Dan Auerbach, a senior relationship counsellor with Sydney’s Associated Counsellors and Psychologists, said a “relationship contract” had “good and bad elements”.
“What it’s saying is, ‘can we put a hold on divorce’ until some of the key things that really disrupt the relationship are addressed.
“Being able to name some of the non-negotiables — abuse, addiction or serious betrayals of trust — are important to moving forward.”
With 113,595 marriages registered in 2015 and 48,517 divorces granted in the same year, what are Australian couples doing wrong?
Auerbach believes couples who were once afforded guidance through extended family interaction, religious institutions and closer knit communities, are now bereft of information on how to work through the natural ups and downs of long-term commitment.
“People are very sensitive,” he says. “We have a strong need to attach to each other and to feel like we can rely on each other emotionally, but we misunderstand each other.
“We’re learning more in the last 50 to 60 years how human beings bond, how they predictably get frustrated with each other, how relationships go wrong, but I don’t think a lot of that information has made it into the mainstream.
“We can either get frustrated and protest angrily, or we can withdraw and shutdown, and unfortunately these two behaviours can feed on each other.
“There are many ways we can miscue.”
Slater and Gordon Lawyers’ family law accredited specialist Heather McKinnon says a court “has no power to do anything other than regulate finance and parenting matters in Australia.
“You can put lifestyle clauses in as an act of good faith but they can’t be enforced if one party breaches,” she says.
“Relationships can’t be controlled with a contract. Look at the marriage equality debate. Why shouldn’t the regulation of everyone’s relationship be the same? Why have we got two sets of laws?”
It comes as the nature of complex human relationships continues to shape and inform how our society engages in Binding Financial Agreements.
The High Court of Australia is expected to release a decision on the power of prenuptial agreements any day now, following the marriage breakdown of a foreign citizen and her now late husband.
“(It) will give guidelines to us about whether it is appropriate for interpersonal relationships to be managed like commercial contracts,” McKinnon says.
“The problem with human relationships is that it is impossible to predict certainty.
“Over a lifetime, a relationship will be impacted by events such as health problems, the demands of parenting, one party becoming the support spouse and jeopardising their earning capacity, or the onset of extended family commitments, such as caring for elderly relatives.
“It would be nice (if you could) put a relationship in a box and sign an agreement as to what you will do if it all goes wrong, but gazing into a crystal ball to predict the future, is something that humans have not perfected.”
McKinnon, who has been practising family law for more than 35 years, says she has seen a lot of relationships where couples separate and reconcile, and separate and reconcile.
“It’s a very common phenomenon.”
Read More: The Daily Telegraph
By: Marie HoggBack to News
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