What Is A De Facto Relationship?

10 Nov 2014

At BTF Lawyers, we often meet couples who are confused about the term “de facto relationship”. The term appears on official forms, government documents and the occasional survey. It is important to know what being in a de facto relationship actually entails, because many benefits and consequences can arise from the legal definition.

With that in mind, here is a brief overview of de facto relationships in NSW.

What Exactly Does De Facto Mean?

A de facto relationship is defined as a partnership between two people who are not married or related by family ties. The couple must be living together on a “genuine domestic basis”.

Despite Commonwealth laws defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, the de facto relationship laws contained in the Family Law Act apply equally to two people of the same or opposite sex.

What Factors Matter?

There are a wide range of factors that help us determine whether you are in, or have been in, a de facto relationship.

These include, but are not limited to:

  • How long you have been in a relationship
  • How long you have lived together and the nature of that arrangement. For example, having a mortgage together is a stronger indicator of a genuine de facto relationship than a short-term rental lease
  • Whether a physical relationship exists
  • Whether there is a degree of financial interdependence, such as joint accounts and expenses being shared
  • Whether a relationship has been registered under any other state or territory laws
  • The arrangements for the care and support of any children.

What Advantages Are There?

The primary advantageof being registered as in a de facto relationship is that you are given rights similar to those of married couples. This includes rights over joint property in the event of one partner passing away under various federal laws like the Succession Act.

Some government payments are also made available to de facto couples, including those relating to family tax benefits, which can be a huge advantage for young couples with families to support.

What Happens When De Facto Couples Separate?

In the event of a relationship breakdown, being registered as a de facto couple can also provide certainty and simplicity to do with assets.

The factors that are listed above are taken into account and reversed to determine if a de facto relationship has ceased to exist.

There are many things to consider when determining whether you are, or have been, part of a de facto relationship. With our extensive first-hand experience in helping clients with these matters, we can help you determine whether the definition applies to you, and whether registering your relationship will be to your benefit.


1. De Facto Property Regime. Available at http://www.ag.gov.au/FamiliesAndMarriage/Families/Documents/Defactopropertyregimefrequentlyaskedquestions.pdf

2. De Facto Property Regime. Available at http://www.ag.gov.au/FamiliesAndMarriage/Families/Documents/Defactopropertyregimefrequentlyaskedquestions.pdf

3. Spouse Details – Married or De Facto. Available at https://www.ato.gov.au/Individuals/Tax-return/2013/Tax-return/Spouse-details—married-or-de-facto/