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Published: 20 October 2015
Author: Ryan Carlisle Thomas with research assistance from Annie Kent

Fall in love, but do it with your eyes open: a checklist for de facto couples

While a de facto relationship appears to be more informal, many people enter or sometimes even drift into one without realising that once it acquires de facto status, this type of relationship enjoys almost the same standing in law as marriage.

This can catch people unawares, with unfortunate consequences in the event that things turn sour.

So by all means fall in love and live with your partner, but do so with your eyes wide open, legally.

A legal checklist for de facto couples

The Family Law Act provides that you if you live together for two years you would generally be considered a de facto couple. There are exceptions and guidelines to that rule, but in general the principle holds.

In this case, the head over heels couple who find themselves evolving into de facto status need to consider the following:

  1. If you are buying your first home together, are you going to be registered on the title? It can be more difficult to prove an interest in that property if you are not a registered owner or on the mortgage.
  2. If you are combining your incomes and joining bank accounts, be sure that you have full access to those accounts and more importantly that you are familiar with the use of the accounts. There is nothing worse than that helpless feeling of not knowing how or where your money is. Think very carefully about what account your wage is being deposited into.
  3. Once you are in a de facto relationship, you may have an interest in your partner’s super (or they may have one in yours). This is irrespective of whether you are nominated as a beneficiary.
  4. Entering into joint loans. For most loans, a couple are jointly and severable liable, therefore if one of you stops paying, the other will have to pay it all. Often new couples consolidate their liabilities into unsecured personal loans or are jointly liable for a car loan and one person ends up responsible for a large amount of debt and a great deal of difficulty paying on their own in the event of a separation. 

For the couples who “never want to get married again” but are happy to be in a de facto relationship – be warned, aside from the pre-requisites of what a de facto couple is, you are effectively treated the same as if you took those vows.

Also think carefully before making that second copy of your keys. Perhaps consider a financial agreement to outline what is to happen in the event of a separation.

This is not very romantic but it can avoid a great deal of pain if you do separate in the future.

Categories Family Law, De facto

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