This month, the Federal Government introduced a Bill to rectify an administrative oversight in Family Law matters involving de facto couples that appeared in court over the past three years. The Bill, to be introduced in March 2012, will correct an administrative error from earlier legislation.
From 1 March 2009, couples that were in de facto relationships had their disputes and legal matters presented to the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Magistrates Court in cases where the relationships broke down. The legislation allowed couples to access the Family Law Courts in matters of property claims, child custody and for establishing ongoing financial arrangements. Previously, disputes of this nature were a matter for the individual state systems.
Unfortunately, it was later revealed that the Federal Government at the time had failed to arrange for the Governor-General to proclaim a start date for the legislation, a requirement set forth by Section 40 of the Family Law Act. A Proclamation was finally rushed through on 11 February 2012 to ensure that orders by the Family Court made after this date could not be challenged.
The bungle raised questions about the legitimacy of orders handed down between 1 March 2009 and 10 February 2012, with some parties stopping their court mandated payments. To address cases that were now uncertain, Attorney-General Nicola Roxon later introduced a bill that retroactively validated the decisions handed down by the Family Courts during this period in question. The new law will give reassurance to families that may have felt uncertain about the decisions that had been issued.
De facto relationships – your rights and responsibilities
For couples in de facto relationships, the law provides the same legislative arrangements as those available to married couples. You are entitled to access to the same legal systems in matters that involve property and maintenance including financial and child custody matters.
You may be required to demonstrate that you and your partner were indeed in a relationship that meets the definition of a de facto as set out by the Family Law Act of 1975. Factors that the court will consider include:
- how long the relationship lasted
- how you lived together and how long for
- if you were in a sexual relationship
- if you depended financially on each other, and any arrangements for financial support between you
- how any property was owned and used and how you came to own it
- if you had a commitment to a shared life together
- how you cared for and supported any children you have
- how other people saw your relationship
Navigating the complex legal system when it comes to Family Law matters and its dealings with de facto relationships can be daunting – your family lawyer can give you more advice on your options.