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MAFS couple Aaron and Ben: married 2017, separated 2017, divorced… 2024
MAFS couple Aaron and Ben: married 2017, separated 2017, divorced… 2024

Pop CultureMay 23, 2024

What it’s like to go through a MAFS divorce

MAFS couple Aaron and Ben: married 2017, separated 2017, divorced… 2024
MAFS couple Aaron and Ben: married 2017, separated 2017, divorced… 2024

In a rarity for the international franchise, the first season of Married at First Sight NZ saw contestants legally wed to a stranger. Seven years later, Alex Casey talks to one groom who only just finalised his divorce.

The man behind the counter at the courthouse was combing through the divorce document, line by line, when he started to frown. There’s a section where applicants fill out the date they first met, followed by the date they got married. “He looked at me and was like ‘I think you’ve done this incorrectly, both of these are the same day’,” says Ben Blackwell. The former Married at First Sight NZ star kept a straight face as he explained. 

“No, that’s right: we met and got married on the same day.” 

It’s been nearly seven years since Ben Blackwell married Aaron Chisholm in the very first season of Married at First Sight NZ. Their wedding was held on a rugged west coast outcrop, and as an invited guest myself, there was a palpable chill in the air that wasn’t just from the wind. “At the altar, both contestants were squirming, avoiding eye contact and staring into the middle distance,” I wrote back in 2017. “Either they weren’t super keen… or just really nervous,” their celebrant would later muse over a Married at First Sight steak. 

Two blonde men kiss on their wedding day against a scenic green backdrop
Aaron and Ben on their wedding day.

Speaking of stakes, what put even more pressure on the union was the fact that the pair were getting legally married, not just TV married. Blackwell remembers inquiring with production about why the marriages had to be official, given that most iterations of the franchise don’t bother the formal paperwork (and the NZ version hasn’t since). “They told me that participants would make more of an effort if we were legally tied together,” recalls Blackwell. “But evidently us millennials don’t really give a shit.” 

Those who watched the first season of Married at First Sight NZ will remember what happened next. “I really don’t like him,” Blackwell was captured saying from the toilets during their reception. “They’ve got this wrong.” As the season continued, things only got worse. “Aaron opens up about his relationship misdemeanours in the past, Ben calls them a red flag,” I wrote during week three of the season. “Aaron tries to plan out a cute camping date, Ben grizzles that he hates camping. Aaron tries to make mimosas, Ben says ‘yuck’.” 

Blackwell’s stonewalling then turned into late nights away from his husband with no communication, frequently leaving Aaron alone in their apartment in tears. “I’ve only got four weeks to decide if I’m going to move my entire f****** life for you,” the Christchurch paramedic famously uttered during a particularly heated exchange. “I don’t even know you,” Blackwell replied. Nominating himself as the chairman of a gossipy clique called the “Pretty Committee”, Blackwell was undoubtedly portrayed as the bad guy of the season. 

Seven years on, Blackwell has had plenty of time to reflect on his time on MAFSNZ. “I can see now that Aaron was much more emotionally mature than I was at the time, I was just very shallow in my approach,” he says. “I wouldn’t take into account other people’s feelings or how my actions would be perceived.” Just 25 years old at the time, Blackwell was “really into socialising, clubbing and Instagram” – all interests that he has long since discarded. “Your priorities change as you get older,” he laughs, now 33. “And so does your back.” 

Two blonde men sit on a leather sofa looking annoyed at each other
Ben and Aaron on the MAFSNZ couch

Following the last episode going to air towards the end of 2017, it was reported that Ben had already visited a lawyer to begin divorce proceedings. “‘Nice drink after meeting with the Lawyer for the Big D #Divorce” he posted on Instagram at the time, pictured sipping a cocktail while wearing a custom-made T-shirt that said “Run Aaron”. 

But given that they were legally married, the pair had to be separated for at least two years before they could file for divorce. By the time they were in the clear, it was heading into 2020, and Aaron was living in London and working as a paramedic when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. “It was just totally chaotic to try and organise the divorce during lockdowns,” says Blackwell. He had also proposed to his longterm partner Alex in 2020, and knew he couldn’t start planning for another wedding while he was legally married to somebody else. 

“It’s actually been a really good lesson for myself,”says Blackwell. “Those stupid decisions that you make in your 20s aren’t just going to affect you in the short term, they are going to have long term effects on your life.” The pair were finally able to put the MAFS chapter of their lives to bed this year, after Chisholm returned home to New Zealand. “People would message me and say, ‘I saw your husband at Kmart’ and I’d say ‘oh, we’re not married yet’ and they would say ‘no, your other husband’,” he laughs. 

Ben and his soon-to-be-husband Alex

When they met up to sign the documents at the Citizens Advice Bureau in New Lynn, it was the first time Blackwell had seen his husband since the Married at First Sight reunion episode. “So I was expecting the worst, but it was actually really nice – kind of like seeing an old colleague.” Standing in line with dozens of other people clutching forms, they reminisced about their time on the show and joked they were the longest-married couple after Brett and Angel. The Spinoff contacted Chisholm to confirm his account, but never got a reply.  

The total bill for their MAFSNZ divorce was $300, which the pair split. While it’s the end of an era, Blackwell muses that it is also likely a world first. “As far as I’m aware, me and Aaron were the only gay couple to ever be legally married on MAFS, so we’re also the only gay couple in MAFS history to get legally divorced.” Their divorce also means that Brett and Angel are now the only couple from the first season of Married at First Sight NZ who are still legally (and happily) married (more on them coming this weekend). 

Although he says it was hard being exposed to the “vitriol and really personal commentary” that came with being the villain on a reality series, Blackwell doesn’t regret his search for love on national television. “It really affected how I behave socially, I’m much more conscious of what I say now,” he says. “I have found that you get a lot more out of just being as kind as possible to people.” With his wedding scheduled for February next year, he’s deep in planning a “massive, expensive celebration” for all their friends and family. 

“I’m sure it will be fun for everyone to come back to my wedding… round two.”

Married at First Sight NZ returns Sunday on Three at 7pm.

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