A new Bill proposes additional protection to de facto couples under the Family Law Act for property and maintenance matters
The introduction of the Family Law Amendment (De Facto Financial Matters and Other Measures) Bill (“the Bill) into Parliament on the 25th June, 2008 looks set to amend the Family Law Act 1975 to allow opposite-sex and same-sex de facto couples access to the federal family law courts for property and maintenance matters.
The Bill also includes changes relating to financial agreements between married couples and superannuation splitting and an amendment to the provision of certificates for family dispute resolution.
The Explanatory Memoranda states that the primary objective of the Bill is to extend the financial settlement regime under the Family Law Act 1975 that is currently only available to married couples to parties to a de facto relationship. At present the jurisdiction for financial settlements for de facto couples rests with each individual State and Territory with the laws in relation to financial matters for de facto couples varying in each jurisdiction.
The conferring of the State and Territory powers to the Federal Government is aimed at implementing a nationally consistent financial settlement regime to minimise jurisdictional disputes and the uncertainties that may impede settlement of these matters under the current State and Territory laws.
In addition, the Bill also offers de facto couples access to the family law system for determination of their financial matters arising from a relationship breakdown and will allow for one court to deal in the one proceeding with financial and child-related matters arising between separated de facto couples.
To achieve uniformity in financial settlement matters the Bill proposes the conferring of jurisdiction on federal courts to allow these courts to make orders in proceedings covered by the definition of ‘de facto financial cause’. The new ‘de facto financial cause” will provide jurisdiction for de facto matters in all financial matters presently available under the Family Law Act between parties to a marriage, such as proceedings for the distribution of property or financial resources, or for the provision of maintenance between parties to a de facto relationship, and proceedings involving third parties, binding financial agreements and related bankruptcy matters.
The Bill states that a person is in a de facto relationship with another person if they are not married, or related to each other by family where, having regard to all the circumstances of the relationship, they have a relationship as a couple living together on a genuine domestic basis.