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Reports of celebrity divorce frequent our major news publications.  While such stories can linger for weeks, a month, or maybe even two, they are quickly forgotten as more newsworthy pieces take precedence.  

However, one such marriage breakdown of which we have been relentlessly reminded, has been that of Karl Stefanovic and Cassandra Thorburn.  Commencing in or around September last year and as recent as only a few days ago, we have been comprehensively briefed with intimate details of the parties’ marriage, their subsequent separation, Stefanovic’s new partner and an alleged property settlement.  However, it is the public disclosure of details which concern the care and custody of the parties’ minor children, which evokes the most disquietude.   

In a calculated, sustained and vitriolic offensive, Amy Croffey, in a series of articles, implores readers to infer that Stefanovic shows little or no regard for the welfare of his children.  One such aspersion is that Stefanovic “went public” with his new partner without consulting his children.  To draw such inference would be akin to accepting that Stefanovic had organised a press conference himself and pronounced to the world that he had a new partner, before speaking to his children.  On the contrary, Stefanovic and his new partner were photographed by paparazzi, without their consent; paparazzi tend to do that.  It is also not uncommon for newly single parents to form a relationship in secret and to see how the relationship progresses before introducing a new partner to the children.  This approach is mindful of their best interests.     

Croffey’s diatribe sinks deep into muddy waters in identifying the minor children by their names and respective ages before implying that Stefanovic prioritises work and leisure over their care.  With reference to his recent trip to Bora Bora, Croffey cites a “family friend” as having said “It was a surprise he decided to take this week off when he will have the children the very next week during school holidays”.  There could be a multitude of reasons why Stefanovic felt it appropriate or necessary to take a holiday before spending time with his children.  The brief sojourn with Packer, a close confidant, may have afforded him the time to privately vent feelings of hurt, anger or frustration so as to then spend a better quality of time with his children.  Stefanovic may have simply heeded the instruction of the pre-flight safety demonstration that he put his own oxygen mask on first, before attending to those of his children. 

The reporting by Croffey of details of an alleged property settlement is similarly inappropriate.  Croffey may protest that other publications also reported a settlement, but a speeding driver cannot be excused by pointing at other speeding drivers.  Croffey scandalously entitles an article “Karl Stefanovic’s ‘priorities’ in his separation: his Logies and James Packer’s Wine” and proffers the fabled family friend to duly note that a large collection of “reds”, bar fridges, a scooter from Michael Clarke and framed photographs of Hollywood stars were also at the heart of Stefanovic’s settlement demands.  Readers could only be expected to surmise that the best interests of the children were but an afterthought to Stefanovic. 

Croffey’s public rebuke of Stefanovic and his ability to care for his children, potentially creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.  What if, for argument’s sake, Stefanovic has been a less than attentive parent but wished to make amends with his children?  This is an all too familiar experience for parents who have been the major breadwinner in a family. Croffey’s unabating reminder to Stefanovic and his children of his possible shortcomings as a parent, would in such circumstances only serve to impede any prospect of bonding, healing or reconciliation.  On any reasonable construction, such reporting violates the best interests of the children.      

Legally, there exists a safeguard against such reporting, as prescribed by section 121 of the Family Law Act 1975, which operates to restrict the publication of any account of legal proceedings under the Act.  This would protect the privacy of parties and their children during separation or divorce, provided they had filed proceedings in either the Family Court or the Federal Circuit Court.  Any person who then published (e.g. in a newspaper) information pertaining to those proceedings, would breach this section and potentially expose themselves to a criminal conviction, punishable by imprisonment of up to one year.  The parties themselves would be subject to this restriction.  A prudent lawyer, dare I say it, an artful one, would make their more well-known clients acutely aware of the virtue in section 121 of the Act. 

While Croffey is not alone in her contempt of Stefanovic, with her, the reproval must stop.  We must remind ourselves that the devastation caused by separation or divorce on parents and particularly children, is indiscriminate, and from which, wealth or fame offers no respite.  For those who report celebrity separation or divorce, you must be conscientiously guided by section 60CC of the Act, with respect to the best interests of a child, and ensure your reporting never endangers the promise that a child might have a meaningful relationship with either of its parents. 

If you have a family law matter you wish to discuss, please contact Gamini Jayasinghe of Easton Legal on (03) 9640 0022 or alternatively at gj@eastonlegal.com.au.