What is a de facto relationship?

Date: Aug 24, 2012

When it comes to relationship breakdowns - including those of married couples, de facto partners and same-sex partners - all legal issues are dealt with in accordance of the Family Law Act.

However, there can sometimes be confusion over what exactly constitutes a de facto relationship if a settlement is to be brought under the Family Law Act.

The important thing to remember is that in order to be considered a de facto relationship, it must satisfy - or have satisfied, if the relationship has broken down - a number of requirements.

Firstly, it must be established that a de facto relationship has existed, and that the total period of this relationship has exceeded at least two years - although this requirement can be waived in certain circumstances.

Identifying the existence of a de facto relationship is sometimes more challenging than a marriage, which can be proven with a marriage certificate.

Instead, the Family Law Act sets out a number of factors that can help determine whether a relationship can be considered de facto.

In addition to the duration of the relationship, factors for consideration include any property that was acquired, used or owned by the couple, whether a sexual relationship exists or existed, the nature of both parties' common residence, whether the relationship was publicly acknowledged, and the degree of both parties' commitment to a shared life.

Certain states, including New South Wales, also allow for de facto partners to register their relationship.

While these factors do not all need to be evident for a de facto relationship to be proven, it must be agreed that on balance, enough of them have been present and the evidence is significant enough for the relationship to have existed.

If it can be established that a de facto relationship existed, both parties are treated under the law in the same way as marriage relationships - and the division of net assets is likely to favour the individual who is determined to be disadvantaged in terms of income or the care of children.

An experienced family lawyer can assist either party in bringing a claim for financial settlement in the event a de facto relationship has broken down. Your lawyer can also provide support for related family law issues, including any financial agreements the couple may wish to enter into.