How Do You Know If You’re in A De-Facto Relationship?

De-facto relationship

The concept of a de-facto relationship isn’t new, and you’ve probably heard the phrase many times before. Working out whether you’re in a de-facto relationship can be complex and at times confusing, but it can also be an important factor when it comes to separation. So, let’s take a look at what being in a de-facto relationship means, and why it matters.

What does de-facto mean?

The legal definition of a de-facto relationship is blissfully short and concise. For the purposes of the Family Law Act, a de-facto relationship is considered to exist when two people (either of the same or opposite sex) are living together as a couple on a genuine domestic basis but are not married or related by family.

That seems simple right? If you aren’t living together then you can’t be in a de-facto relationship. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. You may be surprised to know that it’s possible to be in a de-facto relationship even if you live in separate houses.

That’s because, when it comes to the law, there are many factors that are considered when determining if you meet the requirements of being in a de-facto relationship. These include:

1. The length of time you’ve been in the relationship

The length of time you and your partner have been together is important in determining whether you’re dating or in a de-facto relationship. Typically, relationships that have lasted longer than two years are more likely to be classed as de-facto than shorter ones.

2. The nature and extent of any living arrangements

Living arrangements are a factor in working out if you’re in a de-facto relationship whether you live together or not. If you are, or have been, living together, are both names on the tenancy agreement, mortgage, or property title?

On the other hand, if you haven’t lived together, how many nights a week have you spent together at either house? Was this a regular occurrence, for example, every weekend? Or one week in each month? Even if you live in different states, the amount of time you spend together is important to keep in mind.

3. Whether there was an intimate relationship

An intimate relationship includes much more than what happens in the bedroom. It also includes where you spend your sleeping hours. Did you share a bed? Or have separate rooms?

4. Was the relationship public?

Did you meet each other’s family members? And did your families view you as a couple? How did you introduce each other to friends and co-workers? Essentially, when you went out in public, did you go out as a couple or as friends?

5. The level of financial dependence or support between you and your partner

Financial support or dependence can mean so much more than just a joint bank account. Did you share expenses over time? Or between houses if you lived apart? This can even include things like who supplied the evening meals? Was it evenly distributed between the both of you, or did one of you provide all of the meals?

6. The care and support of any children

To what level did you or your partner care for and support any stepchildren in the relationship? This is a tough question to ask yourself, but you need to think about who took the children to and from activities, how the parental costs were split and whether the role of a stepparent was fulfilled.

7. Whether there’s a mutual commitment to a shared life together

Was the intention in the relationship that it would be indefinite? Were plans made and aspirations discussed? Having a shared commitment to each other for the unforeseeable future is an important factor in any de-facto relationship.

While there are lots of things to consider when thinking about your relationship status, it's important to remember you don’t need to fulfil all the criteria to be in a de-facto relationship, and no factor is more important than the other.

Why does it matter?

When you enter into a marriage you do so knowing it brings with it a level of protection (and obligation), particularly in regard to what happens to any property or children in the event the relationship breaks down.

It’s pretty hard to be accidently married, but it's relatively easy to be accidently in a de-facto relationship. Once in a de-facto relationship the law provides similar protections and obligations as marriage to both of you.

If you’ve been in a serious relationship, and it’s since broken down, it’s important to understand whether it was a de-facto relationship or not. If it was a de-facto relationship, provided you separated less than two years ago, you or your ex-partner could be able to seek:

  1. A property settlement
  2. Spousal maintenance

However, even if you’re in a stable relationship, with no intention to separate, it’s still important to know whether you’re in a de-facto relationship. Knowing when your relationship becomes a de-facto relationship gives you the chance to understand your rights and obligations in the event your relationship does break down.

Need help with your de-facto relationship?

Here at Joliman Lawyers, we understand how difficult separating from a de-facto relationship can be. Our specialist team provides family coaching, parenting coordination coupled with mediation (if required) and family dispute resolution services to assist families to reach an agreement that works for everyone.  Get in touch today to find out more about how we can help you get through the challenging times.

Trevor Jolly

Trevor Jolly

I have a passion for all things Family Law. My wife Justine and I commenced Joliman Lawyers in 2002. I'm a Nationally Accredited Mediator and Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner. I am also a Parenting Coordinator and Conflict Coach.