According to Taylor & Scott Lawyers, the proportion of adults in de facto relationships has steadily increased in recent years. Due to the rising costs of weddings, it’s no wonder that many people are waiting longer before getting married, or in many cases decide not to after all. You may think that this doesn’t matter, but have you considered the implications if your relationship ends? Let’s take a further look at de facto relationships:
Defining de facto relationships
According to the Family Law Act, you are in a de facto relationship with another person if you are not legally married to each other, you are not related by family and you have a relationship as a couple living together on a genuine domestic basis. De facto relationships can exist between men and women as well as in same-sex relationships. Someone can be in multiple de facto relationships, and even be legally married as well as being in a de facto relationship with someone else.
When does a relationship become ‘de facto’?
Usually, a relationship is considered a de facto relationship if the couple have lived together for two years, but that can be waived if you have a child together, or there are other exceptional circumstances. No formal recognition or ceremony is required to enter into a de facto relationship. Courts may look at issues such as:
1) How long you have been together
2) Whether you share a residence
3) Whether you are in a sexual relationship
4) Do you share bank accounts, paying bills etc.
5) Who performs various household duties, and
6) How the public views your relationship
Why does it matter?
It is important to know if you are in a de facto relationship or not, as it determines how any assets or liabilities, including property, are to be divided in the event that the relationship ends (either because you separate, or in the event of the death of one of the partners). If one of you owns an asset in your own name, it may still mean that your partner has an interest in it, and can claim against it.
Knowing your rights
If you are in a de facto relationship, your legal rights and responsibilities are similar to those of married couples. For example, if you and your partner separate you may be entitled to:
- Apply for a property settlement, and
- Claim spousal maintenance.
In addition, if your partner died you may be entitled to:
- A share of the intestate estate under the Succession Act
- Receive compensation under workers compensation law (if your partner dies during the course of employment).
- Claim social security under the Commonwealth Social Security Act.
When else can a de facto relationship be important?
As well as being important if you are already living in Australia (or New Zealand and Canada, who both recognise de facto relationships too), it can also play a part if you are applying for a visa to enter the country. Permanent visas, business skills visas, student, partner and general skilled migration visas will all take into account a de facto relationship that has existed for at least 12 months.
What can I do to protect myself?
If you are uncertain about whether you are in a de facto relationship, or if you worry that some of your assets may not be protected in case of a breakdown of your relationship, it is recommended that you seek legal advice sooner rather than later. You can put arrangements in place, in agreement with your partner, if you want property and other assets to be divided differently in the future. This can be particularly important if you have children from an earlier relationship who you want to protect or there is a significant disparity in your financial position compared to your partner.
At Taylor & Scott we have the experience and resources to provide strong, effective support to our clients in Family Law, a complex area of law that contains many potential pitfalls and requires expertise to navigate well. We work as a team and appreciate the stresses the breakdown of a marriage or de facto relationship often entails, whether financially or emotionally. If you would like to know more or get further advice, call us for a no-obligation initial consultation with one of our legal team.