Did you know that Australia's family law is one of the most progressive in the world for couples? Talking about
legal situations and relationships is hardly romantic, we know. There are many circumstances where you'll be glad you understand what your
rights are though.
The de facto relationship is a common but sometimes confusing part of Australian family law. Working out whether you're in a de facto
relationship in the eyes of the law isn't black and white either.
The legal system in Australia understands that every relationship is different. From property and other assets to children and parenting,
relationships are complicated. That's why de facto relationship status in Australia isn't a one-size-fits-all law.
If you're feeling confused and want to know what constitutes a de facto relationship, we've got you covered. Keep reading to discover how
you can tell if you're in a de facto relationship and whether you need to take any action.
So, what is a defacto relationship?
What's a De Facto Relationship in the Eyes of the Law?
It no longer matters what gender you or your partner are when considering your de facto situation. Same-sex couples have exactly the same
rights as opposite-sex couples when it comes to de facto relationships. That means that no matter who you're partnered up with, you don't
need to worry about if the law applies to you or not.
A de facto relationship is a way of describing a committed, romantic relationship between two people who are not married. De facto couples
have similar rights to married partners. This can ease worries about children, property or finances should your relationship break down in
A de facto relationship needs to fulfil certain criteria outlined in Section 4AA of the Family
Law Act 1975.
There are exceptions to be aware of though. The criteria can include all or any of the following:
- Co-habitation for at least two years
- Not married or related to each other
- In a sexual relationship
- A mutual commitment to a shared life
- Some financial interdependence
- Public display of relationship or reputation
- Whether there are children involved
In essence, a committed relationship where the couple shares a considerable portion of their lives and assets, may well be deemed a de facto
There are exceptions and the law considers relationships on a case-by-case basis to take extenuating circumstances into account. A good
example of an exception is the duration of the relationship.
Typically, a couple should be in a genuine domestic relationship for two years to be considered de facto. However, if you have children
together and the relationship breaks down before two years, the law may judge you to have been in a de facto relationship. This exception
helps protect both parents and children. Joint property may also be deemed an extenuating
circumstance and result in an exception to the general two-year rule.
Do You Need a Family Lawyer for a De Facto Relationship?
For many couples in ongoing de facto relationships, there's no need for a family lawyer to be involved. If your relationship breaks down
though or you want advice on your rights, then it's a good idea to consult a professional.
As couples in de facto relationships receive similar rights and protections as married couples, if you separate
from your partner,
there can be complexities that require legal help. Here are a few areas where having a family lawyer is useful:
- You have complex finances
- You have jointly-owned property
- You have contributed significantly to your former partner's property
- You have children with your former partner
You may also seek out the advice of a family lawyer even if your relationship isn't ending. Many de facto couples want to ensure that their
rights are clear and that they are protected in various eventualities. As the de facto criteria are confusing, a family lawyer can reassure
you and advise you on decisions about your future.
The Breakup Entitlements in a De Facto Relationship
Annually, for every 1,000 residents, there are around two divorces.
As divorce is always a legal process, it's an easy figure to track. As many couples in de facto relationships break up without any legal
involvement, it's impossible to compare the statistics. It's safe to say though, that not every relationship will go the distance.
Couples in a de facto relationship are given similar rights to married couples. This means that should your relationship break up, you have
legal rights over property, finances and child custody. If there's a death in the couple, the surviving partner has the same rights as if
they were married.
While amicable breakups are common, even with the best intentions, communication between former couples can break down. If you find yourself
in a dispute with your former de facto partner, getting the advice of a family lawyer is a must.
As de facto breakup entitlements extend to property owned solely and jointly, as well as assets acquired before the relationship, knowing
your rights prevents you from ending up in a disadvantaged position. You or your former partner may also be entitled to spousal
payments in the event of your de facto relationship breaking up.
Should You Register for a Civil Partnership?
Plenty of couples want to formalise their relationship for themselves and to assure their legal standing. There are several ways to do this
and you should be able to make a choice that suits your relationship and mutual wishes.
You can formalise a de facto relationship in the majority of states and territories across Australia. In Queensland, you can register a de
facto relationship, a process which results in a civil partnership. This is a good option for couples who don't wish to get married but
want legal acknowledgement of their relationship.
While your rights won't change, registering for a civil partnership can make it easier to deal with any legal situations in the future that
relate to your relationship. Many de facto couples register for civil partnerships for personal reasons too, to make a public commitment to
There's no legal obligation for you to register for a civil partnership and if you do, you must go through legal channels if you wish to
dissolve it. If you remain in a de facto relationship without registering for a civil partnership, you don't have to go through official
channels to break up in the eyes of the law.
Understanding Your Rights in a De Facto Relationship
If we all had crystal balls, making the right decisions about our futures would be simple. Luckily though, you have a range of options that
help protect your interests in a relationship. A de facto relationship occurs when you reach the required criteria. If you're unsure
however, it's wise to consult a family lawyer.
De facto breakups can be just as challenging as divorces and seeking professional advice means you'll know your rights. Even the most
amicable of breakups can result in complicated financial or child custody situations. Legal advice will help guide you through the
If you'd like advice on de facto relationships or civil partnerships, get in touch with us today. We provide
expert advice so you can make the right decisions for yourself.
Please note the content of this post is information only and not legal advice. If you require legal advice it is best
to contact one of our lawyers who can review your particular circumstances and then provide tailored advice according to your needs.