Is it time to get a family lawyer involved? – A scenario involving de facto relationships

Sometimes family disputes require legal mediation. When it comes to court proceedings, a solicitor specialising in areas of family law may be able to help you explore your legal rights and responsibilities.

Here is one situation involving de facto relationships, where a family lawyer may be valuable:

De Facto Relationships

Carrie and Mr. Big have been in a relationship for six years. They are not married and do not have any children together. In 2008, Carrie and Mr. Big decide to buy a penthouse and live together for the first time. Mr. Big puts a deposit on the property using his savings. The penthouse is in Big’s name, as is the mortgage with the bank. Carrie has no savings, but makes monthly contributions to the mortgage out of her writer’s salary. Three years later, Carrie and Mr. Big break up. Mr. Big tells Carrie that she has no entitlements as they were not married and she did not contribute to the deposit on the penthouse. Heart broken and homeless, Carrie seeks solace in her three best friends – Merinda, Samantha and Charlotte. Upon learning about Carrie’s situation her friend Miranda (who is also a lawyer) assures Carrie that she has a claim to the penthouse under current family law and encourages her to seek legal advice.

While this may simply be adapting a story line out of the popular HBO series, Sex in the City, this type of scenario is surprisingly common. As society continues to shift away from what would be considered the ‘traditional lifestyle choices’ of the past, more and more couples find themselves living in de facto relationships.  And just as relationships have evolved, so too have legislation and regulatory processes that govern them.

Many do not even realise they are in a de facto relationship until it comes time to review their legal rights. Sadly, this often occurs during a relationship breakdown. So what is a de facto relationship and what are your legal rights as an individual living in such a relationship?

The Family Law Act defines a “de facto relationship”, as a couple living together on a genuine domestic basis, who are not married to each other and who are not related by family. The Act stipulates that a de facto relationship can exist between a man and a woman and between two persons of the same sex.

Property disputes between people living in de facto relationships also fall within the provisions of the Family Law Act. In order to have a claim on any property, the law requires you to demonstrate that either:

  • You have lived in a de facto relationship for two years; or
  • You have a child or children together; or
  • You have made significant contributions to the relationship

In the case of Carrie and Mr. Big, Carrie was able to make a claim on the penthouse having made financial contributions to the penthouse for the last three years.  But Carrie’s entitlements to the penthouse were not solely based on her contributions to the mortgage. The law looks at many different factors in determining the financial entitlements of each party. Some of these include:

  • The duration of the relationship
  • The nature and extent of a common residence
  • Whether a sexual relationship exists
  • The degree of financial dependence or interdependence between the couple and any arrangements for financial support between them
  • The ownership, acquisition and use of their property
  • The degree of mutual commitment to a shared life
  • The care and support of children
  • Public aspects and reputation of the relationship.

Relationship breakdowns can be psychologically taxing enough without having to deal with the division of property and financial assets.  Knowing your rights and responsibilities as a de facto couple is the key to avoiding drawn out (and expensive) legal proceedings. If your de facto relationship has broken down, it is important that you protect your entitlements and seek experienced family law advice.

As Brisbane’s leading Family Law firm, Rostron Carlyle’s can help you understand you rights and responsibilities as a de facto couple. Their dedicated team of family lawyers can answer all your questions and help you and your partner avoid unnecessary court proceedings. Contact them today on (07) 3009 8444 for more information.