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Disputes & Separation:

What is a ‘De Facto’ or Domestic Relationship? A Comprehensive Guide by EM Family Law

As relationships evolve, it’s becoming increasingly common for couples to live together, share finances, and raise children without getting married. In such cases, they might be considered as being in a de facto or domestic relationship, which carries legal consequences. In this comprehensive guide by EM Family Law, we’ll help you understand de facto relationships and the implications they have under the Australian legal system, specifically in the context of the Family Law Court system. We’ll also provide practical tips and debunk common misconceptions related to de facto relationships.

What Constitutes a De Facto Relationship?

A de facto relationship is a serious romantic partnership that isn’t legally a marriage but still carries similar legal rights and obligations. De facto relationships can include a wide range of living, financial, and romantic arrangements, and they are recognised under the Family Law Act 1975.

Key takeaways: 

  • De facto relationships encompass various living, financial, and romantic arrangements.
  • Legal obligations, rights, and entitlements may be similar for de facto couples and married couples.
  • The Family Law Act 1975, provides the framework for determining whether a relationship is de facto.

Factors and Misconceptions in Determining De Facto Relationships

There are various factors that the Court will consider when determining if a relationship is de facto. They can include:

  • Duration of the relationship, typically requiring a minimum of 2 years
  • Nature and extent of common living arrangements
  • Existence of a sexual relationship
  • Degree of financial interdependence and support arrangements
  • Ownership, use, and acquisition of property
  • Degree of mutual commitment to a shared life
  • Registration of the relationship under the Relationships Act (NSW)
  • Care and support of children
  • Reputation and publicity of the relationship

In addition to these factors, there are several common misconceptions about de facto relationships:

  1. Couples must live together full-time to be considered de facto – This is not true. Living arrangements are only one factor in determining de facto status.
  2. De facto couples do not have the same legal rights as married couples – While there may be some differences, de facto couples often have similar legal rights and obligations as married couples under the Family Law Act 1975.
  3. De facto relationships only apply to opposite-sex couples – De facto relationships can include same-sex couples and relationships where one partner is still legally married to another person.
  4. De facto status is automatically granted after living together for a certain period – While the duration of the relationship is a factor, it is not the sole determinant. The Court will consider various factors in determining de facto status.


Key takeaways:


  • Multiple factors are considered by the Court when determining if a relationship is de facto.
  • No single factor is more significant in proving the existence of a de facto relationship.
  • Each relationship is considered on a case-by-case basis.
  • Understanding and debunking misconceptions about de facto relationships is crucial for navigating the legal landscape.

How can I prove my relationship is de facto?

There are various forms of evidence that the Court may accept to prove a de facto relationship, such as:

  • Shared bank accounts
  • Contribution towards childcare
  • Proof of cohabitation
  • Attendance to family, friend, or work events as a couple
  • Registration of the relationship to the appropriate government agency.

Key takeaways:

  • Various types of evidence can be used to prove a relationship is de facto.
  • Living arrangements are only one of many criteria for determining de facto status.
  • Each case is unique, and the best course of action depends on the specific circumstances.

Why does it matter if my relationship is de facto?

Being in a de facto relationship can have implications for various areas in your life. EM Family Law goes into detail with their clients during consultations on these implications that include: 

  • Interests in property
  • Rights to children
  • Financial support payments
  • Claims for the provision or further provision from a partner’s estate

Key takeaways:

  • De facto status can affect interests in property, rights to children, financial support payments, and estate planning.
  • Many de facto couples may not realise they fit the definition under the Family Law Act and may not have put protections in place.
  • Understanding the legal implications of a de facto relationship is crucial for protecting your rights and assets.

How can I protect my rights in a de facto relationship?

EM Family Law provides several suggestions for protecting personal rights and rights in relation to a partner’s property in a de facto relationship:

  • Establish a financial agreement under the Family Law Act to outline each party’s financial rights and obligations during the relationship and in the event of separation.
  • Register your relationship with government agencies to ensure legal recognition and protection.
  • Maintain clear documentation and records of financial contributions, property ownership, and shared living arrangements.
  • Seek legal advice to understand better your rights and protections in a de facto relationship.

Key takeaways:

  • A financial agreement under the Family Law Act can clarify each partner’s rights and responsibilities.
  • Registering your relationship can offer legal recognition and protection.
  • Keeping clear documentation can be invaluable in the event of disputes or separation.
  • Consult with a legal professional to ensure you fully understand and protect your rights in a de facto relationship.

Conclusion: Remember, each de facto relationship is unique, and the best course of action depends on your specific circumstances. Understanding the legal implications of a de facto relationship is essential for protecting your rights and interests. Seeking advice from experienced family law professionals, like EM Family Law, can help ensure you and your partner are staying informed and taking appropriate measures, you can safeguard your assets, rights, and future. If you need any assistance or legal advice regarding de facto relationships, please contact Edwards Moloney Family Law for a consultation.

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Members of our senior legal team are accredited Family Law Specialists. In the legal profession an Accredited Specialist is a practising solicitor who has demonstrated specialised competence in a particular area of law and has been conferred Specialist Accreditation by the Law Society under its Specialist Accreditation Scheme. Edwards Family Lawyers is a highly experienced specialist family law firm that has 3 accredited specialists working out of our offices in Sydney CBD and North Sydney.

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When married couples separate, there is only one ground for the grant of a Divorce Order, and that is the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. This is established by the parties being separated for a minimum of 12 months prior to Divorce. In some circumstances, parties can be living under the same roof and still be able to establish this ground.

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De Facto couples (including same sex couples) who separate after 1 March 2009 have the same rights as married couples. The rights and obligations of couples upon the breakdown of a Marriage or De Facto relationship are now all governed by the Family Law Act 1975. De Facto couples who separated prior to 1 March 2009 are still covered by the old State legislation


We are a leading family law firm in Sydney with over 30 years of award-winning experience in matters relating to complex family law matters. We are a full-service family law firm with a rich history of helping clients with complex property settlements, divorce law, divorce negotiations, child custody and mediation services. Our law firm has a strong focus on providing expert specialist advice relating to Family Law following the breakdown of your marriage or de facto relationship.

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