"I don't live with my boyfriend. But we still might be in a de facto relationship."

I was asked this question during my family law lecture this week.

In my head, that was something for couples who live together. Something you opted into. That when you moved into together you were given a welcome mat and after two years a sophisticated, suave new title for your relationship, De Facto.

My class is made up of early to mid 20-year-olds, a lot of us still live with our parents. I personally require my mum’s help to book a doctor’s appointment. To us, de facto status was for those serious adulting couples, where you showed your commitment to your love through raising a plant or a cat and even kids together.

However, when the 2009 changes were made to the laws around spousal maintenance and the division of property for people in de facto relationships the definition of de facto was changed.

De facto status was for those serious adulting couples. Image via iStock.

Under the Commonwealth Law Act, a de facto relationship is when two people are not legally married or related by family and have a relationship as a couple living together. However in applying this law, the Court has found that you could be in a de facto relationship even if you don't share a home together all the time and even if you have not lived together for two years. You can also be in a de facto relationship if you are married to someone else or in a de facto relationship with someone else.


Known as the 'Mistress Law' the application of this definition means the Court will look at the following factors when determining a de facto relationship:

  • The duration of the relationship
  • The nature and extent of shared living arrangments
  • Whether there is a sexual relationship
  • Whether is financial dependence or interdependence eg. shared bank accounts or loans
  • Shared ownership or use of any property
  • If there is a mutual commitment to a shared life (that love fern could be your de facto adopted baby)
  • Whether there is any shared care and support for children
  • The reputation and public aspects of the relationship (your Facebook relationship status, all those cute couple photos on Instagram together)

This is the part where we started thinking.

could you be in a de facto relationship
You could be in a de facto relationship even if you don't share a home together all the time. Image via iStock

Now not all these factors are required but the more you tick the more likely the Court could consider you to be in a de facto relationship.

Find Law Australia says there's no clear pinpoint that defines when you become a de facto. It depends on the circumstances. They suggest asking yourself some basic questions, to see if you could be de facto;

  • Do you and your partner share a residence at all, even on a part-time basis?

Due to the travelling distance required for uni, I stay at my male companion's house a few days a week on a regular basis. Seeing as I am totally organised and cannot plan ahead I have moved a considerable part of my wardrobe to his house. He really doesn't need all that space anyway. I haven't committed to moving out with him but does this mean we semi / kinda share a residence?

  • Do you provide financial support to your partner or vice versa?

Currently no, but does paying for my meals occasionally when I run out of cash count? I wouldn't call it financial support, perhaps charity for a worthy cause?

  •  Do you and your partner have any joint bank accounts or loans or combine your money in any way?

When we went backpacking around Europe together for 6 months we did combine our money in a shared back account, it made sense not having to split bills all the time. His food bill made up for my gelato bill.

  • Do you and your partner have children together?

HAHAHA no. NO. Sorry Nan.

If you are recognised as de facto under Australian law you could be subject to a claim for property settlement or maintenance order. Now it is unlikely I am personally going to get a claim over my 5-year-old laptop, my Harry Potter books and my well-worn shoe collection, the only things I own of value. However, if you do believe you could be in a de facto relationship it may be beneficial to get some legal advice.

My name is Karla and I could sort of be in a de facto relationship or maybe soon?