One of Australia’s leading family law experts Heather McKinnon has called for more awareness about the legal and financials obligations, as well as benefits, available to same-sex couples.
Ms McKinnon, a senior family lawyer with Slater and Gordon, said that many same-sex clients were shocked when they learnt that family and property law applied to their relationship in the same way that it applies to a heterosexual couple.
“Many people assume that because they are living in a same-sex relationship that the standard laws around breaking up and property settlements do not apply to them; when in fact they do.
“While same-sex marriage is not yet legal, same-sex couples are governed by exactly the same family and de facto laws, and couples need to be aware of that,” Ms McKinnon said.
“The prime example is when same-sex relationships breakdown. Couples need to be aware that the division of assets is the same as any marriage or de facto relationship.
“I am seeing more and more clients who are completely unaware that they are legally obligated to divide their assets this way.
“Same-sex relationships are marriages for the purposes of a financial settlement, which means that property and superannuation are all on the table.
“In 2009, the Federal Government broadened the definition of a de facto relationship and established that couples who live together for two years essentially have the same rights as married couples.
“For some of my clients, the law changed half way through their relationships and they had no idea.
“On the flip side, this also means that couples can access many of the benefits of family status when managing their finances.
“I was recently involved in a case where a couple had been in a long-term relationship, but had kept their property portfolios completely separate.
“When the relationship broke down, the Family Law Act applied to their property and the separation they had maintained was largely meaningless. Unfortunately, they had also missed out on the tax concessions and other benefits they could have accessed as a family.
“The most important thing for all couples is to be clear at the start of a relationship about their financial position and their goals.
“Financial arrangements are very individual and there is no one-size-fits-all approach, but it is vital that couples have all the information when they make decisions.”
Ms McKinnon said people needing advice about where they stood in their relationship should speak with a lawyer.