It has for some time been a common misconception that in order for a de facto relationship to be recognised by the law that the parties must have been together for two years. This was really always a dangerous assumption because parties that were sufficiently financial dependent upon each other could be treated as de facto even if they had been together for less than two years.
The definition of de facto relationship under the Family Law Act now makes no reference to any time period. It states in essence that two people who have a relationship as a couple living together on a genuine domestic basis are in a de facto relationship.
What this means is that the definition of de facto relationship is a good deal wider than what the ‘average man on the street’ thinks. The Family Court has indicated that it believes this definition gives it a very wide discretion when it comes to defining a de facto relationship, and therefore bringing a couple under the Family Law Act.
The relationship also does not have to be exclusive, so it is possible for a person to be in multiple de facto relationships. Multiple marriages are not recognised of course.
The NSW Government has also announced that it will introduce legislation to create a Relationships Register. It is envisaged that de facto couples would register their relationships to make it easier to deal with government bodies. This would seem to be a further indication of a trend towards treating de facto couples like married couples.
A number of people who think that they are not in a serious relationship may find that they are caught by the Family Law Act if they and their partner separate. For this reason if you are entering into a genuine domestic relationship with a person it is prudent to approach it as though you were marrying the person and to consider things such as your assets, and what would happen to the assets if the relationship ended. If you have been in a relationship that may be a de facto relationship and that has ended it may equally be prudent to get legal advice on your rights.
At Coode & Corry we see a number of clients about issues relating to both marriages and de facto relationships and we would be happy to assist you. If you need any advice in this regard make an appointment to come and see Janis Donnelly-Coode.