Changing social attitudes during the late 20th century have led to an increase in unmarried or de facto relationships. Attitudes have also changed about same-sex relationships, how relationships start and end and about remaining single.
Not only do many couples choose not to get married but about three quarters of those who do live together beforehand.
When two people who are not married or related to one another live as a couple in a genuine domestic basis they are described by the law as a de facto couple.
The definition of de facto relationship is contained in the Family Law Act and other laws passed by governments. But it is not always easy to work out whether a court will consider a couple to be living in a de facto relationship. The law tells us to consider a number of factors including:
But sometimes decisions are surprising. In 2012 the Family Court of Western Australia decided a case where a couple had lived together for 14 years, jointly owned property, took holidays together and had a sexual relationship. It ruled that the relationship was not de facto, but a case of “friends with benefits“.
If you are in a de facto relationship your family law rights will often be the same as if you were married. For example the Family Law Act will apply to property (provided you have been together over two years or have children together) and spousal maintenance as well as the parenting arrangements for any children you have together.
Also if your partner dies without a will you may be entitled to a share of their estate. If they die and have not provided for you in their will, you may be entitled to make a claim for family provision.
You may also have the right to claim workers compensation if they die on-the-job as well as the right to receive financial support or social security.
For some, a de facto relationship can creep up on them without them even realising. Because of the changes in your responsibility to your partner that come with a de facto relationship, it is smart to talk to your partner about it in the early stages to ensure this is what you both want.
By Stephen Rees
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