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How do you Know if You’re In a De Facto Relationship?

We admit that most people don’t go out for a romantic dinner together only to work their way through a list of factors that might indicate they are in a de facto relationship.

After all – who cares?

Well, you probably should. Why? Because moving beyond “we’re dating” into “we’re in a de facto relationship” opens up a number of things that might happen if your relationship comes to an end.

Most relevantly, it can potentially allow your ex to seek some kind of property settlement through family or property law. That is, they might ask you (or a Court) to pay them a portion of your money or give them a portion of your assets (we’ll discuss that in more detail elsewhere).

And if their ability to do that comes as a complete surprise, it’s probably because you never thought of  that romantic dinner would come to an issue at all.

So, where is the tipping point? What factors get taken into account if the Court is asked to determine whether you were, or weren’t, in a de facto relationship with your partner?

The Official, but Unhelpful, Definition

You are in a de facto relationship if:

  1. You’re not married;
  2. You’re not related family members; and
  3. Having regard to all the circumstances, you “have a relationship as a couple living together on a genuine domestic basis”.

So, while “all the circumstances” means the Court can take into account anything it feels like, there is actually a list of things that are going to come up as relevant considerations.

These are the ones you might be thinking about as your personal relationship with another person grows.

Bear in mind these aren’t a checkbox exercise – you might have some, or many, of these but still, for some overarching reason not be counted as living together “on a genuine domestic basis”.

They are a guide that, for many relationships, indicate a marriage-like quality exists.

So what’s the list?

The Relevant Considerations

Here are the starting circumstances a Court is going to take into account in trying to answer whether you are in a de facto relationship:

  1. The length of the relationship – a longer relationship being more weighty;
  2. How you lived together, and how long you have lived together – one person stopping overnight from time to time is fairly different from moving all your stuff in;
  3. Whether you have a sexual relationship – no real explanation required there;
  4. The nature of your finances – do you share money, is one person “looking after” the other financially, are there arrangements or understandings about sharing money or provisions?
  5. How you treat property – are things commonly owned, are things kept completely separate, how do purchases and acquisitions work?
  6. The degree of mutual commitment to a shared life – that is, does it look like both parties to the relationship are similarly invested in pursuing life together?
  7. Whether you have registered your relationship;
  8. The care and support of any children of the household;
  9. What others think about your relationship – do people essentially treat you as married , do you both get invited together to events, and the like.

How Do These Considerations Work?

Every relationship is different, so some or all of these factors might not apply to you.

You can see though how they are designed to answer questions about the nature and extent of your relationship with the other person. How closely are you tied together and committed to living life together?

You can think about these things independently up front. After all, relationships are a bit fluid sometimes and naturally transition to greater degrees of commitment. There may not be an obvious “point” where you get over the line of becoming a de facto relationship. There are, however, some obvious moments that you might want to pay attention to: moving in, having children together, and running joint finances are all significant signs of commitment together.

The best thing might just be to have an open discussion with your partner to find out whether your perceptions of the relationship are the same.

A Court, however, is going to weigh evidence. So, in the unhappy even of a split up and a property settlement issue arising, each person is going to put on evidence to establish that you did (or did not) have a de facto relationship.

The Court can consider anything on the list above and anything else it considers relevant.

It will then weigh up all the evidence it has before it, and use that to attempt to answer the main question: were you a couple living together on a genuine domestic basis?

Common Questions about De Facto Relationships

A few FAQs.

Multiple De Facto Relationships?

Yes – you can be in multiple de facto relationships simultaneously. You can also be both married to one person and in a de facto relationship with another.

Can we Register Our Relationship?

Yes. You can register your de facto relationship in Queensland, and a number of other states.

Interestingly, as you would see from the list above, registering your relationship doesn’t automatically mean you will be found to be in a de facto relationship – it is, however, a relevant factor.

How do you End a De Facto Relationship?

You tell (or clearly indicate to) the other person the relationship is over. This, at least, is the neatest way to do it. From there, however, there may be other legal avenues to pursue on a case-by-case basis.

What Happens if My De Facto Partner Dies?

If you are in a de facto relationship and your partner dies, you should get some individual advice. It may be that you are entitled to certain provisions from their estate.

Need to Know?

Understanding whether you are in a de facto relationship, and potentially when that relationship started, is the trigger for a number of other rights and responsibilities that could arise down the track.

And while many people don’t want to think about legalities in their personal relationships, because of the potential importance, it’s worth having a clear and mutual understanding of whether your relationship has hit that point.

That said, if you recently broke up from a significant relationship and, reading the above, think it may have been a de facto relationship, you should consider getting advice about your situation. There may be more to tying up all the loose ends than you initially thought.