De-Facto Relationship Breakdowns – What You Need To Know

Too often you hear a couple in a long-term relationship reduce marriage to just a piece of paper. That part of the story lacks the realisation that they are, indeed in a de facto relationship that is in a lot of ways similar to marriage. The Family Law Act defines one such relationship as a couple that has lived together, on a mutual and genuine domestic basis. The only thing that exempts you from this definition is if you and your partner are legally married or related.

You can be in a de facto relationship even when you do not live together. There are other elements that are considered for a relationship to fall under this category. If such a relationship breaks down, you need to apply for financial orders within two years of the breakdown. So how then do you know that you are in one? Here are several things that are considered:

• Combined finances so that there is financial interdependence or dependence
• The commitment to the relationship and the different roles you both take
• Registration as a de facto relationship
• If you consider your relationship de facto
• You are living together and have a sexual relationship
• You support or have children together
• Your family considers the relationship de facto
• You own assets or property together

From these factors, you see that you can be in a de facto relationship even if you have been together for a short while, for example. A good rule of thumb is to always consult a lawyer if you are unsure. If such a relationship breaks down then, here are some things you need to keep in mind:

You are obligated to split assets

Family Court typically has a de facto rule for financial settlements. However, you need to consult a family lawyer to address your particular situation since each one is unique. Having an asset in one’s name does not guarantee that their claim is granted. If you had not made a formal financial settlement, your ex-partner can make claims on your assets. Note that assets are not necessarily split equally at the end of the relationship.

You may have to pay spousal maintenance

People often relegate spousal maintenance to the legally married but you may also be required to pay it after a de facto relationship ends. The financial contribution of each partner and their dependence on the relationship will form the basis for the split and maintenance. Like with marriage, spousal maintenance claims can be made after a breakup.

You have legal rights like in marriage

You may not have dressed in white and walked down the aisle but your relationship may dictate that the breakup is treated as a marriage. This means that things like superannuation and the division of property will be the same. Even the differences when it comes to parenting arrangements are limited.

You can protect yourself

If you do not know whether your relationship will last, you can make sure that some of your assets are protected. You can have an arrangement with your partner to dictate how property is divided in future. This is an especially important step if there are children involved even from an earlier relationship. It also helps to protect you if there is a significant difference between your financial positions.

Same-sex couples are recognized in family law

Even though in some places same-sex marriage is illegal, you do qualify as a de-facto relationship as long as you meet some of the requirements in Family Law. Consequently, you have similar rights as any married couple. Note that, like is the case for other relationships, verbal agreements between partners do not apply when the relationship ends.

Whatever the case, work with independent lawyers so that each of them looks out for your best interests. Once you realise that a breakup is inevitable, find your legal counsel. A breakup is very emotional and you need someone who can see matters objectively.

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