Am I in a De Facto Relationship? Why Does This Matter?

If you’ve recently encountered the breakdown of a de facto relationship, then you might be wondering what your legal rights are moving forward. Or perhaps you’re currently in a de facto relationship and know little about the legalities of this arrangement.

Although you and your partner are unmarried, you may be surprised to hear that the separation of a de facto couple contains many legal similarities to that of a divorce.

Keep reading to learn more about de facto relationships, including what they are and what each partner may have a legal right to in the event of a separation.


What is a De Facto Relationship?

According to Australian family law, a de facto relationship is defined as two persons living together as a couple on a domestic basis. This excludes those that are married or related to one another.

Generally, a de facto couple will have been living together and in a romantic relationship for at least two years without separation. However, there are exceptions to this rule if children are involved or there are significant contributions to joint property.

The law will also take other important factors into account about your relationship when determining de facto status. These include:

  • Whether the relationship is registered through the applicable state’s Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages
  • Ownership and usage of property
  • Financial reliance
  • The level of mutual dedication to a shared life
  • The relationship’s public qualities, such as reputation
  • If the relationship was of a sexual nature

It’s important to note that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all definition of a de facto relationship. Each situation is assessed separately, with the unique circumstances of the relationship taken into account.


What is the Legal Significance of a De Facto Relationship?

The presence of a de facto relationship is especially important if you decide to separate from your partner. This is because de facto couples have many of the same financial, property, and parental rights as married couples under the law.

You may be entitled to a portion of the contributions made by you and your de facto partner before or during the relationship, as well as any future requirements you may have.

De facto partnerships can also be required to provide spousal support if one of the parties is unable to support themselves. A de facto couple’s superannuation interests can also be divided in the same way as a married couple.

Additionally, de facto couples are entitled to the same social security benefits as married couples. Therefore, if you and your former de facto partner care for a child together, you may be entitled to support. You might also be eligible for compensation if you have dependent children and your de facto partner dies.


How Can You Protect Your Assets When in a De Facto Relationship?

De facto couples who seek financial security can make a financial agreement at any point in their relationship. This document can be used by a couple to specify how their property and other assets will be shared if they separate.

Some de facto couples prefer to enter into a financial arrangement only upon separation. In these instances, it can be a helpful way to formalise the couple’s agreed-upon settlement of their property and assets, as well as any spousal maintenance.

When ending a de facto relationship, you should also consider any instances where you have named your ex-partner as a beneficiary, such as with your will, superannuation, or insurance.


In Summary

If you’re unclear about the impact your de facto relationship may have on your legal or financial circumstances, we encourage you to seek legal advice.

If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help, please contact us at (03) 9422 5439 or email

Looking for a lawyer in Melbourne? We have lawyers in South Morang and lawyers in Warrnambool ready to help you.