Since 2009, Australian family law has treated married couples and de facto couples largely the same. In the event of a relationship breakdown, they have the same rights when it comes to property settlements, spousal maintenance, parenting orders and receiving child support.
The main difference is that because there is no marriage certificate showing that the two people were in a committed relationship, access to these entitlements is based on being able to show that the parties were in fact in a de facto relationship.
A de facto relationship is one in which two people, who are not related nor married to each other, are living together as a couple on a genuine domestic basis. Proving the existence of a de facto relationship is especially important in property settlements and financial orders. There are four gateway criteria that are used to establish whether a party can make an application for a division of property or for spousal maintenance.
These criteria are: that the relationship lasted for at least two years, that there is a child of relationship, that the relationship was registered in a state or territory, or that significant contributions were made by one party and it would be an injustice if no property order were made.
This is something that does not apply to married couples seeking orders after separation or divorce. Registering a relationship with the relevant registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages is one way to show the existence of a de facto relationship.
This type of registration is not open to married couples. As with married couples, there is a time limit in which de facto partners may apply for orders from the court. This time limit is up to two years after the date of separation, while for married couples it is up to one year after the finalisation of their divorce.