Pauline Hanson’s call for compulsory pre-nuptial agreements would seriously harm women who divorce, and is of a piece for a suite of family law “reforms” pushed by One Nation aimed at punishing women. 

One Nation — reflecting its old, white, right-wing male constituency — has already adopted hardline anti-women family law changes: the dumping of the Family Court and its replacement with “community” representatives, an end to existing child support laws, the imposition of default requirements for joint custody, and a requirement to make losing family law litigants pay all costs, including making domestic violence victims pay costs to their abusers.

Hanson also argued in her maiden speech in the Senate last year that women make “frivolous claims” in a “discriminate [sic], biased and unworkable” system, and said men who murdered their former partners were “frustrated” by the system.

But imposing a requirement for pre-nuptial agreements on every couple would entrench systematic economic discrimination in the family law system. Evidence has long shown that pre-nuptial agreements favour and protect the interests of the economically stronger party, almost always men — especially in first marriages when both partners are younger and have their working lives ahead of them. Given women are more likely to take career breaks for parenting than men, they earn less than their partners, have less superannuation and enjoy less job security. Family law specialists warn women without major independent wealth sources off entering such agreements: as one told a Fairfax journalist in 2014, “[t]ypically they are the ones who bear the economic risk associated with putting their career on hold [to have children] and having to organise their career around children”. There’s also evidence that pre-nuptial agreements routinely undervalue the non-financial contribution of women to a household, especially around parenting.

Hanson’s claim that pre-nuptial agreements will remove the bulk of the work of the Family Court system misses the point that litigation to overturn or strike down such agreements is increasing — with aggrieved partners (usually men) then suing their own lawyers over agreements that fail to stand up in court.

What One Nation is now, in effect, proposing is an all-out attack on the current family law system that has, over decades, slowly put in place some measure of economic protection for women after divorce — the abolition of the Family Court, the imposition in its place of systemically unfair pre-nuptial contracts, abolishing the child-support system, punishing women who litigate against former partners — and lose. The winners from these “reforms” would be exactly One Nation’s most ardent constituency: older males resentful of their experience of the family law system and of former partners they believe have somehow exploited them. For these angry white men, this is one policy issue that’s very personal for them.

Peter Fray

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