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Valentine’s Day: The Seven Laws of Love

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As Valentine’s Day approaches, Slater and Gordon lawyer Henry Pill has outlined some of the ‘laws of love’, to ensure the day doesn’t end in heartbreak, or worse, a lawsuit.

1. Workplace romance: is sending flowers to a co-worker inappropriate?

  • ​​Simply being in a relationship with a colleague shouldn’t jeopardise your employment, but you should be aware of and comply with your workplace’s policies. This can include an obligation to tell your employer about your relationship and other measures to avoid conflicts of interest.
  • When it comes to unsolicited romantic gestures, it is important to tread carefully and remember inappropriate flirting or propositions can amount to sexual harassment. Sending flowers or chocolates to a co-worker might seem like an innocent gesture, but the recipient may feel embarrassed or vulnerable in a work environment.

There have been cases in Australia where employers have faced sexual harassment claims following unwanted advances in the workplace, including this case from Victoria.

Case study: A Geelong post office worker suffered a significant psychological injury after being subject to three months of sexual harassment by her boss, including an unsolicited Valentine’s Day card that contained lyrics to ‘Please Forgive Me’ by Bryan Adams.

The court heard she experienced frequent sexual propositions, physical touching and inappropriate text messages, which she rejected to no avail. VCAT found this created an intolerable work environment and ordered her employer pay the women over $332,000 in compensation, as well as her legal costs. 

2. Spousal immunity: can Australian couples refuse to take the stand?

  • There is no ironclad right to “spousal immunity” in Australia, so people can be forced to take the stand and give evidence against their partner. Limited rights to refuse to give evidence against a spouse exist in some states and jurisdictions, but even the strongest protections are not absolute.
  • For instance, a person’s spouse may be protected from being called as a witness in criminal proceedings in some states, but only at the court’s discretion. When deciding whether to grant spousal immunity to a witness in jurisdictions where such protections exist, courts usually consider factors like:
    • The nature and gravity of the offence;
    • The nature of the relationship between the spouse and the defendant;
    • The substance and importance of a spouse’s evidence;
    • Whether the spouse’s evidence could be obtained from another source.

3. Loath love? You can leave everything in your will for your cat to enjoy!

  • To some people’s surprise, fur babies are just as entitled to be beneficiaries of a will as any other family member. However, this can be complicated as pets do not have the same status in law as humans, so rather than leaving an inheritance directly to a pet, you need to leave it for the pet’s benefit.
  • You can do this by either leaving cash or assets directly to the person who will care for your pet, or leave cash in a trust fund, specifying how the money should be spent.

4. Dating or de facto?

  • While getting married is a conscious and deliberate decision, there is no clear signal to mark the beginning of a de facto relationship. Contrary to popular belief, a couple does not need to live together full-time to be considered de facto.
  • Factors to consider when determining whether you are in a de facto relationship include:
    • Whether you ever share a house with your partner, even if it’s not all the time;
    • Whether you have any joint bank accounts, combined finances or loans together;
    • Whether you have any children together;
    • Whether you financially support each other.

5. Am I entitled to a refund if my flowers don’t look like the picture online?

  • If you order flowers online, you enter into a contract with the retailer who is responsible for the condition of the flowers until they are delivered as per the Australian Consumer Law.
  • If the flowers arrive in poor condition, you can contact the retailer and request a full refund or replacement because of a major problem with the goods. If the problem is only minor, the seller can choose whether to replace the flowers, fix them up or refund your money.
  • If the flowers are significantly different from the sample or description online, you should first check the terms and conditions of sale before asking for your money back. Many florists have provisions that allow for the substitution of flowers of equal or greater value due to things like seasonal availability. Disclaimers for delayed delivery are also common, especially during busy periods like Valentine’s Day.

6. True love or stalking: where is the line?

  • There is an important difference between pursuing someone romantically and making them feel threatened and harassed. Don’t let the love in the air cloud your judgment by paying close attention to how your love interest is reacting to your advances.
  • Stalking is a crime. Acts which might amount to stalking can include conduct such as threatening or following a person, but can also include repeatedly contacting a person. Patterns of phone calls, text messages, social media messages or gifts delivered to a person’s home or business may amount to stalking, depending on the circumstances.

7. Marriage and wills: Did you know getting married can override your existing will?

  • Couples who choose to pop the question on the most romantic day of the year should ensure their will is updated to reflect their new relationship status. Many Australians are unaware that when you tie the knot or enter into a de facto relationship, you and your partner’s existing wills become invalid.
  • If you fail to update your will to reflect this major relationship change, a large part of your estate may be awarded to your spouse, which can be problematic if you have children from a previous marriage or others you would like to provide for.