ARTICLE
7 February 2013

Law insists de facto relationship is more than just "friends with benefits"

S
Stacks Law Firm

Contributor

Stacks Law Firm is a leading Australian legal service provider with more than 250 people operating locally in many Australian communities. We are committed to supporting the legal needs of everyday Australians and businesses across every stage of life.
Recognised de facto relationships - including same-sex couples - are treated the same as married couples in the courts.
Australia Family and Matrimonial
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The law doesn't always have a clear definition of what constitutes a de facto relationship. It's important as recognised de facto relationships - including same-sex couples - are treated the same as married couples in the courts.

The law has a range of guidelines to consider when determining a couple is de facto such as how long a couple have been together, whether they share finances and household chores, how they present themselves to friends and family, if they jointly own property and had children. There is no single criteria essential to prove a couple are in a de-facto relationship.

The situation has just got a bit clearer after a court recently ruled de facto does not mean the same as a couple who are simply "friends with benefits".

A Family Court of Western Australia judge ruled a man and woman were not in a de facto relationship even though they lived in the same house and had regular sex over a 14 year period. They socialised together and took short holidays together. They even bought a property together.

But when the man married another woman, the spurned woman took him to court arguing they were de facto and she was legally entitled to a spousal division of the property.

They each owned several properties in their own name, and lived in various properties as landlord and tenant. He gave her a rent discount. They bought one property together. While the woman felt they were a couple, the man saw it as a matter of convenience and never intended it to be a long term relationship.

The judge ruled for the man, saying he might be "dishonourable", but the woman had also benefited from the "friends with benefits" arrangement.

The decision goes some way to arrest concerns that law changes in 2008 would open the door for a secretly kept mistress to claim a de facto relationship with a cheating husband. The criteria to be regarded as de facto are valid even if one of the couple is married to someone else.

Some argued this meant men or women with a lover or partner outside their marriage could be open to legal action if that partner decided they needed income support or a share of assets, especially if a child is involved. There were fears it could also lead to complications in deceased estates if an unknown lover or children of the lover seek a share.

But it's now apparent having sex isn't enough to determine a de facto relationship exists. You need to share the washing up as well.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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