The make-up of the modern household is quite different to what it used to be even just a generation ago. As a result, the definition of spousal relationships has also changed in the eyes of the law. Today, de facto couples are entitled to the same rights and claims when it comes to Family Law matters including property, financial settlements and arrangements for the children of the relationship.
How does the law define a de facto relationship?
The laws defining a de facto relationship are outlined in the Family Law Act 1975. The law requires that two people, who may be of the same or opposite sex, have a relationship as a couple living together on a genuine domestic basis. However, a relationship is not a de facto relationship if the couple is legally married to one another or if they are related by family.
There are a four “gateway” criteria that are used to assess a genuine domestic basis for the relationship when it comes to Family Law matters:
- That the period for the de facto relationship is at least 2 years;
- That there is a child in the de facto relationship;
- That the relationship is or was registered under a prescribed law of a State or Territory.
- When assessing property or custodial claims in cases of a breakdown of a relationship, it is recognised that significant contributions were being made by one party and the failure to issue an order would result in a serious injustice.
For any relationship that was terminated after March 2009, that meet at least one of the four gateway requirements for de facto relationships, parties are able to issue proceedings in the Family Court or the Federal Magistrates’ Court. The Courts will then deal with the matter in the same way they would with a legally married couple issuing proceedings.
For individuals that are considering entering into a de facto relationship by moving in together, it’ll be important to understand the implications of such an arrangement. It’ll be worthwhile to discuss matters with your partner or consider a more formal Binding Financial Agreement that outlines household contribution and maintenance responsibilities as well as providing a level of certainty when it comes to the division of assets in the event of a relationship breakdown.
What am I entitled to if my de facto relationship breaks down?
For all intents and purposes, a de facto relationship that meets the criteria set out by the courts is viewed equally to a legal marriage when it comes to matters of the law.
If your de facto relationship comes to an end, you have up to two years to apply for de facto financial orders. If you apply after this two year period, you will need the Court’s permission.
You will have access to the same legal systems as a legally married couple and can apply for a number of court orders including child support, spousal maintenance and the division of assets, including superannuation. As with divorcing married couples, de facto couples can come to an agreement outside of the court system through alternative dispute resolution.
Are you in a de facto relationship? What questions do you have about where you may stand in the eyes of the law?