When the partners to a long-term de facto relationship separate, the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 requires the partners to divide their property in the same way as the partners to long-term marriage or civil union would.
But there can be problems if the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 treats some de facto relationships the same as marriages and civil unions when they are actually different. It is important that the Act focuses on the right relationships.
The Property (Relationships) Act 1976 defines a de facto relationship as two people who “live together as a couple”. The Act says courts should consider all the circumstances of the relationship, but it lists specific matters that indicate whether the two people were a couple. The matters include:
- the length of the relationship;
- whether the partners shared the same house;
- whether the partners had a sexual relationship;
- how much the partners were financially dependent or interdependent;
- how the partners owned, used and acquired property;
- how much the partners were mutually committed to a shared life;
- how the partners cared and supported their children;
- how the partners performed household duties; and
- the reputation and public aspects of the relationship.
The Act says that it is not critical that all of the matters apply to the relationship or even any. The court may attach whatever weight to each matter it thinks is appropriate. The court, therefore, has a lot of flexibility when deciding whether partners were a couple.
We want to know whether you think the definition enables the court to identify de facto relationships that are the same as marriages and civil unions.