As tradition keeps shifting in our culture, I’ve noticed a much greater number of people involved in de facto relationships. A de facto relationship, under the Family Law Act, refers to a couple who are in a relationship and living together without being legally married to one another (or unrelated by family).

In 2009, new regulations under the Family Law Act granted several rights to de facto couples. The new law – which applies to same sex couples as well – provides nearly the same amount of rights and related obligations as couples who are legally married.

Of course, when these relationships come to an end, there are plenty of questions related to the separation process. These include property rights, how to mediate disputes, and how to come to an amicable resolution between the couple.

Here are the most common questions received about disputes in a de facto relationship separation. Have a look to ensure you understand both your rights and your obligations if you’re in a similar situation.

1. Do I need to notify anyone about a de facto separation?

Under the Family Law Act, separation is defined as the ending of a relationship. You do not have to register this type of separation under the law. However, you may have to prove that a separation has occurred if it is contested by the other party in the future.

In most cases, it is recommended to confirm a separation with some form of written text. This could include anything from a letter or note to a text message that clearly indicates both parties’ acknowledgment of the separation.

2. How does spousal maintenance work in a de facto relationship?

Similar to a marriage, spousal maintenance can and often does occur after a breakup or separation. The precise terms of a spousal maintenance arrangement will vary depending on a wide range of circumstances. And the precise details should be determined with the assistance of a qualified family lawyer.

3. How is child care, custody and support determined?

Both parties in a de facto relationship must come to a determination regarding their children. This includes issues such as child relocation, child support, and all related matters. In nearly all cases of disputes about childcare, I recommend both parties secure legal counsel as quickly as possible.

4. What if I have a dispute over child arrangements?

If you have a de facto relationship dispute about your children, you can apply to the Family Court or the Federal Circuit Court. These courts are in place to deal with issues such as child disputes in de facto relationships. Issues dealing with children are handled in the same manner as similar disputes with married couples.

5. Do I have to follow these laws in a de facto relationship?

If a couple clarifies ahead of time that they do not intend to have these laws apply to their relationship, they can be exempt from their requirements. This type of decision must be mutually agreed upon by both parties in the relationship prior to a separation. And couples can come to a binding financial agreement about how property distribution and spousal maintenance will be handled if their relationship ended.

These agreements can be made both before and during a relationship – but not after it ends. And both parties must first obtain legal advice independently before coming to this type of agreement.


Please seek independent legal advice if you require it.

Main image source: Shutterstock

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  • My daughter is in a defacto relationship and her partner is in the Navy. She is treated exactly the same as the partners to those that are married.


  • Having been in a de facto relationship for the last 28 years, raising 2 kids, I always thought de facto couples had exactly the same rights as married people


  • Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this matter.


  • Interesting. My sister is in a defacto relationship and is currently experiencing ill health. This has raised many issues about her finances, etc. It’s very tricky and I guess we’re not fully understanding of the laws/rules.


  • Always good to be informed when you’re in such a relationship.


  • Great information for those who are in a de facto relationship. There are so many assumed ideas about de facto relationships as well as same sex ones.


  • A good article for people that are in this situation, knowing what to expect and be prepared is important for an even separation.


  • May be a useful article for anyone in this situation.


  • I wish it was that simple. The complexity, emotional and psychological impact of seperation is enormous.

    • It is an incredibly tough journey for many people.


  • A good article and so many couples are in a de facto relationship.


  • Yes my brother recently went through something like this


  • One thing that is taken into consideration is how long you have been in a de- facto relationship before separating, especially if assets are to be split.


  • At the very least you should give thought to these issues.


  • Good information for those who are in this situation.


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