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Patricia Clancy was building up her legal practice when Gough Whitlam's attorney-general Lionel Murphy changed the law.

Tuesday 18th December 2018

By: The Age

Australia in the 1970s was a great and rich country. For some, there was security in an allegiance to God and country and the fact that mum stayed at home with the kids. But there were also people at the barricades, anger in the streets and death in Vietnam.

Patricia Clancy was one of Gough's People.

She became one of Melbourne's leading divorce lawyers by helping extract people from "some of the most terrible marriages" after Lionel Murphy introduced no-fault divorce.

In January, 1976, one of the most eagerly awaited initiatives of the Whitlam era was about to finally get under way.

There had been predictions that under the Whitlam government's new Family Law Act a divorce would be granted in Melbourne every five minutes. It didn't quite happen that fast, although there were a lot of eager petitioners waiting for Family Court offices to open around Australia.

A South Yarra man turned up at the Family Court in Melbourne at 5am to ensure prompt service. Under the new law, all that was needed to get an uncontested divorce was 12 months' continuous separation and $150 to $300 to pay the fee. This compared to five years under the old Matrimonial Causes Act, which also listed 14 grounds for divorce, including adultery, cruelty and desertion.

"New Quickie Divorce Starts Rush", declared one newspaper. "Divorce 1976-style was standing in a queue between plastic panels and potted plants on the 12th floor of a Melbourne office building yesterday."

Another story told of a Melbourne private detective's delight that "bedroom raids" to catch unfaithful spouses would no longer happen, while another story quoted a young man who got out of the elevator at the Melbourne Family Court, saw the large number of people waiting to initiate divorce proceedings and muttered "she's not that bad," as he left the building.

Patricia Clancy was building up her legal practice when Whitlam's attorney-general Lionel Murphy changed the law.

It also changed her life.

Her firm Clancy and Triado went on to become one of the most prominent in the state handling divorce - notably for female clients - and custody cases.

Later, Clancy was awarded an Order of Australia for services to law, particularly family law.

"The law before Murphy was amazing," Clancy recalls. "It was so intolerable for so many people."

The Whitlam period "was a very exciting time. Things a lot of people had objected to were so suddenly remedied at the stroke of a pen".

The legal changes fundamentally changed people's lives for the better, particularly women and children, she says.

However, changes to the provisions for property division in a divorce did not always result in a fair outcome.

"Very often, there was an atmosphere of punishment of the husband and, if there was a house, it was more likely it might go to the woman."

But Clancy says that while some of the reforms have been wiped out altogether, "we will never go back to the appalling situation that existed before the act, whereby people were forced to stay in dreadful marriages".


Original article - https://www.theage.com.au/national/goughs-generation-20021202-gduv5h.html

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