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What do Twiggy Forrest, Ariana Grande, and Justin Trudeau have in common? They have each graced our newsfeeds recently, joining a rapidly growing cohort of high-profile divorcees in a trend being aptly named, “the Great Separation.”  It has been suggested that this is largely due to the regular stresses of marriage (finances, infidelity, parenting, etc.) being magnified by increased exposure to wealth and the public eye.

In a previous article, we touched on the statistics released by the Family Court stating that since the beginning of the pandemic in 2019 the number of divorces granted rose by a staggering 15.8% at the close of the 2021 financial year. But what makes a high-profile divorce and separation different from one in the middle class and what lessons can be learned?

Money cannot buy happiness

Twiggy Forrest and his now ex-wife Nicola Forrest were Australia’s richest couple, estimated last year to be worth a staggering $27.5 billion. However, even this amount of money could not save their marriage. The Forrests’ story should serve as a reminder to all that money is merely a tool, not the be-all and end-all purpose in our lives.  We must remember to do what is right for ourselves and those we love, not just what is right for the almighty dollar.

How is the Forrest divorce playing out?

The question on many people’s minds is “How will this divorce or separation play out?” In a run-of-the-mill divorce, the largest concerns are living arrangements, division of assets, and parenting responsibilities, in this case, the future of Australia’s tenth-largest company hangs in the balance. With her large shareholding in Fortescue Metals Group, Nicola Forrest has the potential to exert influence over the leadership of the company by nominating new directors to its board, whether for better or worse.

Paul Doolan, a partner at Barkus Doolan Winning, told the Sydney Morning Herald that it is unlikely that Nicola will choose to act in opposition to Twiggy or the interests of FMG, even if her shareholding gives her the power to do so. Doolan stated that where a common high-value asset is involved, the parties in a high-profile divorce often strike agreements in which one party maintains the rights of control over the asset and acts in the best interests of both parties as they are largely indistinguishable from each other.

In their joint statement published by the Australian Financial Review, Twiggy and Nicola promised that their 31-year-long marriage ended on terms that allowed for “their friendship and commitment to family [to remain] strong” and for no impact to be had on the ongoing operations of their business and philanthropic endeavors. One way in which a high-profile divorce differs from the average is its capacity to affect the lives of so many. Although most divorces have negative effects on those close to the couple, high-profile cases have the potential to affect employees, shareholders, and charities if handled poorly. The value must be seen in the conclusion of a relationship before the breakdown of communications and diplomacy.

What can I learn from this?

In almost all situations it is much better for the parties who are divorcing to attempt to reach an amicable settlement of both financial and parenting matters without recourse to the Family Court.

Many of the matters filed in the Family Court at present are not expected to be able to go to trial and have a judgment delivered within three years, which, even without taking legal fees into account, has a huge impact on someone’s life, when after a separation, most people just want to be able to move on.  The psychological impact of having Family Court proceedings looming alone is often enough to have people back away from litigation, but when coupled with the long delays currently experienced in the Family Court as well as potential legal fees upwards of $50,000 each there is no wonder that many people are looking for alternatives to litigation if they reach an agreement.

At Lynn & Brown Lawyers we focus on trying to settle Family Court matters outside of court wherever possible.  If this is something you or someone you know is interested in exploring, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

About the Authors: This article has been co-authored by Sam Richardson and Jacqui Brown. Sam is a law clerk and studying towards his law degree. Jacqui is a Perth lawyer and director at Lynn & Brown Lawyers. Jacqui has over 20 years’ experience in legal practice and practices in family law, mediation and estate planning. Jacqui is also a Nationally Accredited Mediator and a Notary Public.

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