De facto rights: legal win in UK

Heterosexual de facto couples in the UK are celebrating a victory, after new laws kicked in on New Years Eve that addressed an inequality in the laws around civil partnerships. This means that de facto couples, whether heterosexual or homosexual, can have the same rights as married couples in relation to property, inheritance and tax entitlements.

Until now, heterosexual de facto couples have had no legal status in UK law equivalent to married couples. Civil partnerships were introduced in 2004 as a way to enable same-sex couples to enjoy the same legal rights as married couples without actually letting them marry.  Once marriage equality was achieved in England and Wales in 2013, same-sex civil unions became less common. But it left de facto heterosexual couples who wanted similar de facto legal protections unhappy they couldn’t access the same legal recognition. Activists argued it was discriminatory for same-sex and opposite sex couples not to be afforded the same rights and choices, and the Supreme Court agreed.

Now, UK couples can enjoy greater legal and economic rights and protections within relationships, without needing to marry. Many see legal recognition of their de facto relationship as important, as making a legal commitment provides a sense of security. Couples may see marriage as an old-fashioned, patriarchal concept or not want the “fuss” of a conventional marriage. Legal de facto relationships are a way to formalise the relationship in a modern way.

In Australia, de facto family law rights are written into the Family Law Act 1975 in Section 4AA. Because we have marriage equality here, our family laws apply equally to heterosexual and homosexual couples, including our de facto laws. You don’t have to register your relationship officially to enjoy legal rights, but there are some benefits to doing so, especially where deceased estates are concerned.

If you want to though, you can register your relationship in a number of states and territories in Australia, including the ACT, NSW and Queensland.

Note that qualifying as a “de facto” in the eyes of the family courts isn’t always easy. Compared to married couples who only need to show a marriage certificate, proving the existence of a de facto relationship involves considering a wide range of factors, including:

  • duration of a relationship;
  • nature and extent of common residence;
  • whether there was a sexual relationship;
  • how much financial dependence or interdependence there was;
  • whether there was any arrangement relating to one party financially supporting the other;
  • ownership, use and acquisition of property;
  • how much mutual commitment there was to a shared life;
  • care and support of children;
  • performance of household duties; and
  • reputation and public aspects of the relationship.

All of these factors are considered holistically, with none of them singly being ‘proof’ of a de facto relationship.

To help cement their economic rights, it’s highly recommended de facto couples enter into a so-called “cohabitation agreement”, otherwise known as the same Binding Financial Agreement that marrying couples can enter into. A family lawyer can help you draw up a Binding Financial Agreement.

Whether you’re de facto or married, if you are going through a separation or divorce, we are here to help. Please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Legal Services.

Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information about how to get the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Legal Services.

You can read the family court’s advice on de facto relationships here.


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