'Divorce with dignity' as a justification for publication restrictions on proceedings under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) in an era of litigant self-publication


  • Georgina Dimopoulos Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne


Upon its enactment, the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) closed the Family Court of Australia to the general public and imposed a total prohibition on the publication of proceedings. Such privacy protection, together with the advent of ‘no-fault’ divorce, were intended to serve the objective of ‘divorce with dignity’, by ridding divorce of its stigma which had made it a public spectacle and prime media fodder. In their current form, the publication restrictions imposed by section 121 of the Family Law Act prohibit the publication or dissemination of identifying details of family law proceedings. Adopting a personhood account of privacy, this paper asks whether the privacy protection embodied by section 121 remains justifiable in terms of human dignity, in light of the phenomenon of litigants self-publishing details of their family law litigation on digital and social media platforms. It explains how online self-publication by litigants may violate privacy and be an affront to dignity, and argues that, notwithstanding the privacy paradox, section 121 can still be justified by ‘divorce with dignity’ to which the Family Law Act aspired.


A Articles/Books/Reports

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Australian Law Reform Commission, Family Law for the Future — An Inquiry into the Family Law System (Report No 135, March 2019)

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Bloustein, Edward, ‘Privacy as an Aspect of Human Dignity: An Answer to Dean Prosser’ (1964) New York University Law Review 962

Bok, Sissela, Secrecy: On the Ethics of Concealment and Revelation (Vintage Books, 1983)

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Carey, Robert and Jacquelyn Burkell, ‘A Heuristics Approach to Understanding Privacy-Protecting Behaviours in Digital Social Environments’ in Ian Kerr, Valerie Steeves, and Carole Lucock (eds), Lessons from the Identity Trail: Anonymity, Privacy and Identity in a Networked Society (Oxford University Press, 2009) 65

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DeCew, Judith Wagner, In Pursuit of Privacy: Law, Ethics and the Rise of Technology (Cornell University Press, 1997)

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Finlay, Henry, To Have, But Not To Hold: A History of Attitudes to Marriage and Divorce in Australia, 1858-1975 (Federation Press, 2005)

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Jourard, Sidney, ‘Some Psychological Aspects of Privacy’ (1966) 31 Law and Contemporary Problems 307

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B Cases

Darcy & Cameroon (No 3) [2010] FamCA 347 (25 March 2010)

Darcy & Cameroon (No 4) [2010] FamCA 351 (16 April 2010)

Denny & Purdy [2009] FamCA 547 (26 June 2009)

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Ellershaw & Survant [2013] FamCA 510 (9 July 2013)

G & B [2007] FamCA 343 (20 April 2007)

Gaylard & Cain [2012] FMCAfam 501 (30 May 2012)

Griswold v Connecticut, 381 US 479 (1965)

Lackey & Mae [2013] FMCAfam 284 (4 April 2013)

Love & Shillington (No 2) [2007] FamCA 566 (5 April 2007)

Planned Parenthood v Casey, 505 US 833 (1992)

Prentice & Bellas [2012] FamCA 108 (24 February 2012)

Roe v Wade 410 US 113 (1973)

Samuels & Errington (No 2) [2007] FamCA 507 (5 June 2007)

Seaward & MacDuff (No 4) [2012] FamCA 1147 (19 October 2012)

Snell & Snell (No 5) [2015] FamCA 420 (12 May 2015)

Sullivan & Tyler [2015] FamCAFC 167 (28 August 2015)

Xuarez & Vitela [2012] FamCA 574 (25 July 2012)

C Legislation

Family Law Amendment Act 1983 (Cth)

Family Law Act 1975 (Cth)

Matrimonial Causes Act 1959 (Cth)

D Other

Commonwealth, Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 12 February 1975

Commonwealth, Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 28 February 1975

Commonwealth, Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 9 April 1975

Commonwealth, Parliamentary Debates, Senate, 1 August 1974

Commonwealth, Parliamentary Debates, Senate, 19 May 1975

Commonwealth, Parliamentary Debates, Senate, 20 October 1981

Lepore, Jill, ‘The Prism: Privacy in an Age of Publicity’, New Yorker (online at 24 June 2013) <https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/06/24/the-prism>