A Short Course in De Facto Relationships

It’s becoming more and more common for Australian couples to move in with a partner before marrying. In 2016 the Australian Census reported that 1 in 6 Australians were in a de-facto relationship. However, in 2014 the Social Services Minister claimed that de facto relationships are less stable and more prone to break ups. There are also many questions surround legal rights of de facto couples and whether they have the same rights as a married couple.

Is a Marriage stronger than a De-facto relationship?

Studies tend to agree that de facto couples are more likely to break up then married couples. However, in recent times it has become more common for couples to trial a relationship by living together before marrying, so inevitably the rate of relationship breakdown will be higher. Professor Janeen Baxter wrote in her recent book Family Formation in 21st Century Australia, marriages that “might once have ended in the first few years of marriage may have been replaced by cohabitation relationships.” She goes on to state that “this has resulted in a lower risk of divorce early in marriage for more recent marriage cohorts than in previous marriage cohorts.” In short, many Australian’s are testing the water before they tie the knot.

How Short Is Too Short? The Laws Around De Facto Relationships.

Once you move in it may seem practical to get a joint bank account to pay for rent, then a joint credit card. Maybe you get a pet, or perhaps you buy a property together. All these choices may mean that your short relationship now qualifies as a De Facto relationship. To be classed as De Facto you must not be married or be related by family. You must also be living with your partner in a “genuine domestic basis.” There is a general presumption that you need to have lived with your partner for two years or more. However, there are exceptions, such as having a child together, or if one party has made “significant contributions”,  that can class you as de facto before this two-year mark.

 What is a Genuine domestic Basis?

When it comes to family law every case is different. However, the below list  (which is not exhaustive) can be helpful when determining if you are in de facto relationship. If you can answer yes to several of the questions below, you may qualify as de facto:

  • Have you been living together for two or more years?
  • Do you share finances? (Joint account, credit card, properties)
  • Do you financially rely on your partner/do they rely on you?
  • Do you have a sexual relationship?
  • Do you have children together?
  • Do you put yourselves out as a couple?
  • Have you registered your relationship in the state you reside in?

Interestingly, the law provides that you can be married to someone and have a de facto relationship with someone else or have one or two de facto relationships at the same time (think of the “mistress” situation or long term affair).

Can I get a property settlement in a short de facto relationship?

The short answer is yes. However, the amount you will receive (or have to pay) will depend on your individual circumstances. The shorter the relationship, the more relevant any initial or direct financial contributions will be.  However, the longer a relationship endures, other contributions become relevant.  If you have made significant contributions to the relationship (either in a domestic or financial capacity) this may be taken into account when dividing assets.

Ultimately, you need specialised advice as to how the law may deal with your de facto relationship and division of any property if you separate. Our lawyers will focus on the best options available to assist your particular circumstances and outline solutions that are the most efficient and cost effective for you.

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