For many years, the stats have shown that for many couples, a formal marriage ceremony has followed a de facto relationship. Other couples who have made a conscious decision not to marry, despite passing the two or three years that couples often cohabit before marrying, will assure their family and friends that this is their choice and so it is. Perhaps the value of the marriage certificate to those couples is more in its lack of existence, in that they don’t need a marriage certificate to live out their bliss.  

De facto relationships are recognised in family law as having the same consequences as a marriage, once the couple has lived together for two years (generally).  Some de facto relationships can be recognised in family law earlier than that, if there is a child or some other reason, such as a major financial contribution by one to the other.  

While not getting married means a couple misses out on the party, they will get all the legal consequences of a formal marriage.  

But if the relationship breaks down and 

  1. They don’t agree about what their relationship was;
  2. They don’t agree about how long it lasted, 

And they have a financial dispute, they will have the dispute about whether they qualify as a de facto couple in the Family Court and are allowed to have their dispute heard there, rather than the general law courts.  

That is truly money wasted on legal fees.  

Because after they have argued about that, then they will have a dispute every married couple has, about what they each contributed in monetary terms and probably also their contributions in making the home together, the non-financial contribution.  

Having a home together does not even have to be part of a de facto relationship, although it usually does.  

The range of what can be found to be a “genuine domestic relationship” is deeply varied, complex, and personal to the couple, so de facto relationship law is very broad to reflect how people live, capturing secret relationships as well as polyamorous ones.  

The recommendation that we make as family lawyers, is that whatever your relationship is, you should both be able to agree on what it is.  That might not even protect you from a dispute, because friends with benefits can look a lot like a de facto relationship and might in some cases be one.  

But if you must have a financial dispute, the family court is a better environment for that, than maybe finding yourself in one or more of the several general law courts, depending on the value of your dispute.  

Notoriously many people are leaving home as adults later in life than their parents did, when they are likely to move into shared housing of some kind.  Many couples who start living together, thinking it is an expression of their committed romantic relationships, may find after the love has worn off, they are still together because it’s hard to find somewhere else to live.  

So, while formally married couples will still dispute the outcome of the breakdown of their relationship, the bit of paper they have may simplify matters.  But for de facto couples, a great deal of their accumulated wealth can be used up in a legal case about when they began living together; or whether it was just a passing intimate relationship, even if one or more in the couple might have had other interests, as well, along the way.   

If this seems a little cynical and bleak, the optimism of couples beginning a romantic relationship is evergreen, so at that time, if it is your wish to formally marry, then when the romance is strong and true, is the best time to put a ring on it.  

And if the other party is adverse, because of the ruinous cost of weddings as promoted in the wonderful world of online reality (and you can’t bear to have a little party), then just understand that you are still married in a de facto relationship, and not having the party might cost the value of a wedding or more.  

If you are uncertain as to what to do you should seek legal services as quickly as possible. Bowen Buchbinder Vilensky has experience in dealing with interests in land and will be happy to provide further advice to you. Contact Bowen Buchbinder Vilensky.

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