De facto relationships on the rise

Date: Jul 20, 2011

The number of de facto relationships are on the rise in Australia, with more NSW couples adopting cohabitation arrangements rather than traditional marriages.

Census data from 2006 showed that 15 per cent of all 'socially married' couples were de facto in nature, with a large number of unmarried people in relationships coming from the 20 to 30 age bracket.

Most Australians in de facto relationships indicated they had never been married, but the arrangement has also proved popular with people who are separated or divorced - nearly 30 per cent indicated they had been married or in a relationship previously.

Another reason for the increase in this type of partnerships over time may be due to changes made to the law to allow same-sex couples to qualify as being in a de facto relationship.

In 1999, amendments were applied to the NSW Property (Relationship) Act 1984 regarding de facto arrangements.

These changes mean that a de facto relationship now refers to a pair of adults who live together as a couple, are not related by family and are not married to each other - although partners may still be married to someone outside the relationship and considered as part of a couple - as well as a range of other criteria.

The Property (Relationship) Act also describes a number of factors that determine if a de facto relationship exists. These including its duration, the couple's financial arrangements and the care of any dependants. In NSW de facto relationships now fall within the provisions of the Family Law Act 1975.

If you need to evaluate the status of your relationship, a trusted family lawyer will be able to help you to determine its precise legal nature.

Also, a de facto relationship is not to be confused with the legal definition for a domestic relationship. This includes de facto partners as well as adults living together who share a close personal relationship - such as a parent or sibling.

Couples in NSW looking to gain more concrete recognition of their de facto status have the option of registering their relationship with the Registry of Births, Death and Marriages.

Inclusion on the NSW Relationships Register may allow registered couples to more easily access key benefits and rights under a wide range of legislation in NSW.

Couples intending to register their de facto relationship will need to provide to the registry with a statutory declaration and may wish to consider seeking trusted family law advice before proceeding.