Twenty First Century Divorce in Australia: The Starbucks App of Divorce Pleadings

By Jacob Simon

Place an order and pay ahead on the Starbucks® app for iPhone® or Android™. That means you can walk in and without waiting in line, ask a barista for your freshly made order at the pickup area.[1]


In common law countries like the United States and Canada, obtaining a divorce is a process that begins in the local state or provincial trial court.  Like any other civil complaint, it requires formal pleadings, prepared pursuant to court rules, which is difficult without retaining counsel that specializes in matrimonial matters.  However, Australia has provided the rest of the common law world with a new and technology driven way to obtain a divorce.

In Australia, applying for a divorce is as easy and straightforward as placing your online order with the Starbucks app.  Jurisdiction for a divorce case rests with the Federal Circuit Court,[2] and their website will walk you through a step by step process for the application online.[3]  In fact, if you get stuck or need help, a live chat option is available to you for your convenience.[4] There is even a choice of using a phone number or an online text based chat service.[5] However, this is unlikely to be necessary since there is an interactive list of yes or no questions, which help explain to the user whether or not they meet the requirements to apply for divorce before they even create an account with the Federal Circuit Court.[6]

Application for Divorce

In order to apply for divorce, the first step is to Register for the Federal Circuit Court Portal. Then, once an account is created, applying for divorce is as easy as clicking “Apply Now,” and following the instructions within the interactive website.[7]  However, this does not mean that the user is limited to the computer generated forms. Rather, this online program is equipped to allow you to supplement all of the information with your own separate documents.[8] 

At each step the yes and no answers are supplemented with relevant portions of the Family Law Act of 1975,[9] and placed into context for the user so that they can understand how to answer the question.  For example, pursuant to paragraph 48, subsection 2 of the Family Law Act of 1975, the parties must have “lived separately and apart for a continuous period of not less than 12 months immediately preceding the date of the filing of the application for the divorce order.”[10] One of the yes or no, questions on the application pages asks “[h]ave you been separated for at least 12 months and one day?”[11] If your answer is yes, you are asked to proceed to the next question; however, if your answer is no you are then given the following warning and explanation.[12] “You cannot sign and file the application until you have been separate from your spouse for at least 12 months, For example, if you separated on 7 November 2015 you cannot apply for a divorce until 8 November 2016.”[13]

Application for Parenting Time and Financial Orders

Application for typical family court orders[14] is just as simple as the application for divorce.  Just follow the step by step instructions, click on the tabs which explain the requirements if you are unsure, and finally, utilize the live chat feature or live phone help if all else fails.[15]

All of the other administrative issues involved in a divorce case are also taken care of through this process.  For example, there is a step by step guide for providing proper notice and service for all of the different pleadings.[16]

Conclusion and Concerns

It would appear that Australia has recognized that investment in online tools for divorce litigants is empowering Australians to take their divorce cases into their own hands.  The advantage of this process is that individuals can apply for a divorce with the same level of convenience as ordering a beverage from their Starbucks mobile app. 

While this might be a helpful way to curb the access to justice problem, I have a few concerns with this process. Primarily the fact that this might encourage divorce litigants to peruse a divorce without the obtaining counsel. This problem could manifest from this system being so easy to use that many individuals who are comfortable with making important life choices on their computer[17] will forgo hiring an attorney altogether.  However, an attorney in a divorce case is far more than just someone who files pleadings pursuant to statues and court rules.  An attorney advocate will make sure that your rights are fully enforced. This can be critical when deciding important financial matters such as property distribution and support obligations, as well as personal matters such as parenting time, and authority for child decision making. Finally, and most importantly, a skilled matrimonial attorney can identify domestic violence situations which might otherwise go unnoticed.  

* * * * *

[1] Starbucks, (last visited Mar. 10, 2017).

[2] Family Law Act of 1975 (Austl.).

[3] Australia Federal Circuit Courts, (last visited Mar. 10, 2017).

[4] Australia Federal Circuit Courts, (last visited Mar. 10, 2017).

[5] Supra note 2.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Family Law Act of 1975 (Austl.).

[10] Id. at para 48 s 2.

[11] Supra note 2.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Emergency Ex Parte relief, temporary custody orders and support orders, long term custody and support orders, and orders regarding name changes.

[15] Supra note 2.

[16] Australia Federal Circuit Court, (last visited Mar. 10, 2017).

[17] For example, online banking, online stock trading, and online mortgage application.