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De Facto Relationships

Separating from a de facto relationship

Since 2009, de facto couples across Australia have had similar rights and obligations as married couples. So in many cases, the same rules apply as for any separation or divorce.

Under the Family Law Act, a couple is in a de facto relationship if they are not married to each other, are not related by family and they have a relationship as a couple living together on a genuine domestic basis.

The Family Law Act also provides that de facto relationships can exist regardless of whether it is same sex or different sex, and even when one of the parties is legally married to someone else or in another de facto relationship.

Why is it important to define the relationship?

People in defacto relationships have the same financial responsibilities to their partners as if they were married.

If you are in a de facto relationship any disputes over your children or over property will be treated by law in the same way as for a married couple.

A court will take into account;

  • How long you have been together
  • The nature and extent of your common residence and whether there is a sexual relationship between the parties
  • Your financial involvement may also be considered
  • The ownership of your property 
  • The degree of mutual commitment to a shared life 
  • Whether the relationship is registered under a State law
  • The care and support of children
  • The reputation and public aspects of your relationship 

Applying for property adjustment and/or maintenance orders 

The Family Law Act provisions only apply to a de facto party seeking to apply for property adjustment and/or maintenance orders when one of the following conditions are met:

  • the period, or the total periods, of the de facto relationship is at least two years
    • there is a child of the de facto relationship – this must be the child of both parties to the relationship
    • one or both parties to the relationship made substantial contributions and it would be seriously unjust for that party if the Act did not apply, or
  • the relationship is registered.

Time limits for making application to the court

A party to a de facto relationship can bring an application for a property settlement or maintenance under the Family Law Act within two years of the relationship ending.

After that time an application for a property settlement can only be made with the consent of the parties or with permission from the court.

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