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What is a de facto relationship?

A de facto relationship is a relationship in which two people, who aren’t already related, live together on a genuine domestic basis.

In other words, as life partners. If you and your partner have moved in together, you’re probably in a de facto relationship. This includes same-sex partners.

What’s the difference between de facto and marriage?

De facto relationships and marriages are similar in many ways. However, there are some critical differences in the property rights of de facto partners, as well as the evidence that de facto partners may need to prove their relationship. De facto partners may also make binding financial agreements  before, during or after their live-in relationship.

We’re experts in de facto relationship law. We can help you sort things out, no matter what your legal issue.

What are my legal rights as a de facto partner?

The legal rights of de facto partners vary depending on which area of law applies and whether there are any children.

For example, you must have lived together for at least:

  • One year if applying for a migration visa
  • Two years if your relationship has ended and you want to divide property under the Family Law Act
  • Three years for other legal areas including wills, deceased estate claims, and superannuation issues

A key difference between de facto relationships and marriages is that legal rights apply as soon as you’re married, but de facto couples must satisfy threshold time requirements before accessing the same legal rights.

If you have children:

However, if you and your de facto partner have children, there may not be any minimum time requirement. De facto rights may apply immediately. To find out more, contact us to arrange an obligation free first interview.

Cohabitation and property rights

If you lived together for at least two years, either you or your former partner can apply to a court to have the property of the relationship divided.

Assets acquired during or before the relationship:

De facto partners will often seek legal assistance over their property rights if the relationship has come to an end. If you lived together for at least two years, either you or your former partner can apply to a court to have the property of the relationship divided. This is the property that you acquired during the relationship, and the property that either of you owned before cohabitation. It also includes superannuation.

Assets acquired after separating:

Likewise, any property that you or your former partner buy or acquire after separating can be divided. This can happen right up until there is a resolution, for example, a property settlement or final court orders about the division of property. It includes share dividends and winning lottery tickets.

If it seems likely that you and your de facto partner will separate, we recommend getting legal advice as soon as possible.

Need advice? Just ask us a question


What can I claim as part of a property settlement?

Potential claims could include real estate, financial assets, shares, and debts. Spousal maintenance and some of your former partner’s superannuation is also a possibility.

If you’re making a property settlement claim against your former de facto partner, you can potentially claim for division of assets, including real estate, financial assets, shares, and debts.

You can also possibly claim spousal maintenance and some of your former partner’s superannuation. We can advise you about this once we know your situation.


How do I prove cohabitation?

There are a range of relationship attributes the court will consider, as well as documents that help provide evidence of your relationship.

Although your de facto relationship may be like a marriage, one of the key differences is in being able to prove the relationship. For example, if there’s a disagreement about whether you ever lived together. Married couples need only produce a marriage certificate as proof of the relationship. But for a de facto relationship, you may need to provide evidence of cohabitation.

If it’s necessary to apply to a court to decide, it will consider a range of things, for example:

  • The length of the relationship
  • Whether there was a sexual relationship
  • How long you shared a home, or whether one party was a frequent visitor
  • Responsibility for paying rent, utilities, and other bills
  • Whether you combined finances
  • Your commitment to a life together
  • Responsibilities for the care and support of any children of the relationship

You’ll need to provide as many documents as possible, including:

  • Rent and utility bills
  • Bank statements
  • Proof of income and tax returns
  • Certificates of title for any real estate
  • Proof of any other assets
  • Any emails, text messages or other correspondence that indicate cohabitation

We’ve got plenty of experience in this area, and we’ll guide you through.

Need advice? Just ask us a question


Time limits and dates

For applications to divide property, there’s usually a time limit of two years from the date of separation.

If your de facto relationship has ended or is about to end, you’ll need legal advice as soon as possible.

You’ll need to know the date of separation, as well as the date you first started living together and any other key dates. For example, if you combined your finances, the date on which this happened.


Frequently asked questions

In some circumstances, a court may waive minimum time thresholds, including:

  • The parties have a child or children together
  • One party has made significant financial or non-financial contributions, and they would suffer a serious injustice if the time limit were not waived

We’ll help you work through these concerns regardless of how long you were living together.

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