Many people think that just because you’re not married, or you’re in a relationship but not living together, that ‘what’s yours is yours’. But under Australian law, this isn’t always the case.

People in a de facto relationship who are splitting up may have the same rights and liabilities as married couples when it comes to things like property settlements. The definition of a de facto relationship is sometimes not very clear, particularly if you’re separating, or making a property or maintenance claim.

Are you in a de facto relationship?

If you’re living with and having a relationship with someone, the law will usually define this as a de facto relationship, and you will generally have the same rights and entitlements as if you are married. However, you could also be in a de facto relationship if you are in a committed relationship but not necessarily living together.

Defining whether you are in a de facto relationship can be quite complex. The courts look at things like:

  • the length of the relationship
  • whether a sexual relationship existed
  • the degree of financial dependence or interdependence between the couple
  • property ownership or purchases
  • if you live with each other and the nature of the accommodation
  • if you have or care for children.

Property settlements and claims

If you break up with your partner, you usually have two years from the date your relationship ended to make a property claim. A couple who separates comes under the Family Law Act for the purposes of property entitlements, and the person making the application needs to prove that a de facto relationship existed.

In some circumstances, the two-year time period does not apply, for example:

  • if you have children together
  • where one partner has made substantial financial or non-financial contributions.

I want to find out more

Protection with a binding financial agreement

A binding financial agreement (also known as a pre-nup), is used when people want financial security. You can enter a binding financial agreement at any time during a relationship. The agreement sets out how property and other assets are to be divided if you separate, and can also cover areas like spousal maintenance.

The legal implications of being in a de facto relationship can be quite complex. If you want to be certain about your rights and obligations, you should seek professional advice from a lawyer.

Protecting your income

If you had to stop work because you became sick, injured or involuntarily redundant things could become very stressful for you and your partner. Income protection insurance, also known as salary continuance, provides cover for up to 75% of your monthly income and allows you to focus on important things such as recovering.

Find out more on our income protection insurance