De facto relationships are essentially romantic partnerships that are recognised by the law as a serious commitment to a shared life, and that therefore result in legal consequences. De facto is a flexible term that encompasses relationships with a wide variety of living, financial and romantic arrangements. It therefore covers a much broader set of circumstances than just ‘marriage-like’ relationships.

Is my relationship ‘de facto’?

Under the Family Law Act 1975 (Vic) when two people are in a ‘genuine domestic’ relationship but are not married, they are in a de facto relationship. This includes same-sex couples and relationships where one partner is still legally married to another person.

When determining whether a partnership is genuine and domestic, the Court will consider the following:

  1. Duration of the relationship. Typically, de facto relationships must have a minimum duration of 2 years, however, other factors including whether there are children of the relationship will be relevant;
  2. Nature and extent of common living arrangements;
  3. Whether a sexual relationship existed;
  4. Degree of financial interdependence, including financial support arrangements;
  5. Ownership, use and acquisition of property;
  6. Degree of mutual commitment to a shared life;
  7. Registration at Birth Deaths and Marriages of a domestic or de facto relationship under the Relationships Act (Vic);
  8. Care and support of children;
  9. Reputation and publicity of the relationship;

To prove de facto status, the Court will accept evidence such as shared bank accounts, contribution towards childcare, proof of cohabitation, or attendance to family, friend or work events as a couple or registration of the relationship.

Do I need to be living with my partner to be de facto?

A popular misconception is that a couple must be living together full time to be considered de facto. This is not necessarily the case. Living arrangements are only one of many criteria taken into consideration when determining whether a relationship is de facto.

No single criteria is more important or significant in proving the existence of a de facto relationship, and each relationship will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Why does it matter if my relationship is de facto?

Many de facto couples do not realise they fit the definition under the Family Law Act, and subsequently may not have put any form of protections in place. This can lead to unintended outcomes, as de facto status has the ability to affect interests in property, rights to children, financial support payments and even claims for provision or further provision from a party’s estate.


In the event of separation, de facto status has the ability to affect:

  • Interests in property

The Court has the power to declare and alter the rights of ex-spouses in relation to property. This means your de facto partner may retain rights to your property, even if their name is not on the title lease or business. This can also include financial property, such as superannuation.

  • Children

Separation of de facto partners can affect rights, obligations and custody in relation to adopted and shared biological children.

  • Financial support payments

The Court can order financial support of one spouse to another following separation. Although this includes child support, there are a variety of circumstances in which one partner will be required by the Court to make maintenance payments to the other.

Estate planning

De facto status may also be an important consideration when it comes to the inclusion of spouses in estate planning or wills. Provision in wills for de facto partners or failure to make provision in wills can lead to claims by de facto partners. Issues may arise where the de facto relationship ended prior to the death of the testator.

How can I protect my rights in a de facto relationship?

There are numerous ways in which de facto partners can protect both their personal rights, and their rights in relation to each other’s property. This can include financial agreements under the Family Law Act or relationship registration, as referred to above.

If you are unsure of whether you are in a de facto relationship, the impacts of this, or if you would like to take measures to protect yourself and your assets, the Pearce Webster Dugdales Family Law team is available to provide you with high quality and personable legal advice.