BARNABY’S FOLLY

Having been engaged in a trial in the Federal Circuit Court last week, I had very little time to look at the news. However, having caught up over the weekend, I became acquainted with the current obsession with Australia’s media in the form of Barnaby Joyce, his separation and re-partnering.

For the sake of full disclosure, I come from National Party stock. I used to describe myself as fourth generation, card carrying, National Party and proud of it. However, living in Queensland and having seen the effects of a merger of the Liberal Party and the National Party, together with Campbell Newman’s inability to understand separation of powers and the rule of law, I became somewhat disillusioned and did not renew my party membership.

During the debate on same sex marriage, Barnaby Joyce put on record that he had separated from his wife of 24 years, Natalie. Again, this was one of those “blink and you’ll miss it” moments for me. The Australian media now seems to have an obsession with Barnaby’s actions. I could be nice to the media and say that it is simply as a result of expositive journalism by Miranda Devine wishing to uncover a possible misuse of parliamentary (taxpayer) funds and ministerial misconduct together with the nepotism and intrigue that appears to be associated with a salacious story.

I’m sure I could editorialise for a significant period of time about how dragging Barnaby, his wife, his new partner, his four daughters and soon to be fifth child through the press seems to be unnecessarily cruel and not in the public interest. However, I would be well outside my area of expertise if I did so.

Say or think what you like about Barnaby Joyce (and there is much that can and has been said) but the fact of the matter is that he is going through a difficult time which one in three married Australians have found themselves in.

He has separated from a wife of 24 years and will now have to balance the difficulties that come with:

• a blended family;
• maintaining a relationship with his four daughters;
• maintaining some semblance of a relationship with his estranged wife, Natalie, in order to co-parent his four daughters; and
• navigating the difficult aspects of property settlement, spousal maintenance, and child support.

This is generally hard enough for most people to deal with. However, imagine doing it with the country’s press watching and commenting on your every move.

If Barnaby was a smart man (and I make no comment on this), he would embrace the use of the various alternative dispute resolution processes that are available to him.

This could include Collaborative Law where both parties work in a specific framework which allows them to resolve their issues with the assistance of their lawyers, and sometimes a communications consultant. If the Collaborative Law process breaks down, the lawyers engaged cannot represent them in Court.

Barnaby could also give consideration to resolving parenting issues by way of a child-inclusive process for his daughters that are under 18. This allows children to have input into the situation and for an appropriately trained psychologist to provide feedback to both parents about what is age and stage appropriate for their children and to address any issues relating to communication that might arise.

Barnaby also has an option to resolve matters about property settlement and spousal maintenance through arbitration. Arbitration allows both parties to select the arbitrator of their choice (usually a senior family law practitioner) to act as a private judge in order to make a determination about these issues.

Although the family law jurisdiction has various safeguards to stop information being published, the privacy surrounding arbitration (including that it takes place outside a court format where members of the public can attend but not publish any information), may give him and his family some peace of mind and the privacy that they are (in my opinion) entitled to.

Whether you like Barnaby or loathe him, the end of a marriage and the beginning of a new relationship is a deeply personal time. I would suggest that the media cut Barnaby some slack, let him focus on getting his own house in order, and work out how he will navigate the future for the benefit of his family.

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