Whether you have been dating for a week or many years (and still waiting on that ring…), most people will agree that these days it’s not official until its ‘Facebook Official’. Whether you like it or not the way others perceive your love life can prove beneficial (or detrimental!) to you when assessing your legal rights in a family law matter in Australia.

So what are your legal rights and why it is important?

Well, only married or de facto separated couples have the right to seek Court orders regarding the division of property or maintenance.

First and foremost, it is important to establish what exactly constitutes being ‘de facto’. De facto relationships are dealt with by the Family Law Act which regards someone as being in a de facto relationship if they meet the following criteria:

  1. The persons are not legally married to each other;
  2. The persons are not related by family (we would certainly would hope not!); and
  3. Having regard to all the circumstances of their relationship, they have a relationship as a couple living together on a genuine domestic basis.

The Court will also consider a number of factors to determine if persons are de facto or just dating, including:

  • the length of the relationship;
  • the nature and extent of common residence;
  • whether a sexual relationship exists;
  • the degree of financial dependence and support;
  • ownership, use and acquisition of property;
  • degree of mutual commitment to a shared life;
  • care and support of children;
  • reputation and public aspects of the relationship; and
  • whether the relationship is or was a registered relationship under the relevant legislation.

What is clear from the Court’s position is that each relationship is its own set of factual circumstances and should be treated as such.

The concept of using Facebook (including the change of relationship status) as evidence to support/oppose the existence of a de facto relationship is now commonly accepted in Australia. An example is a recent case where person “A” claimed she was in a de facto relationship but person “B” opposed the claim; instead describing the relationship as an ‘on again/off again boyfriend/girlfriend’ relationship. Person A changed her Facebook status from ‘single’ to ‘in a relationship’, and posted photos as well as comments that included person B. In contrast, person B refused to ever change his relationship status over the 3 year period they knew each other. While this evidence wasn’t the deciding factor, it assisted the Court in making a decision.

Does all of this hit a little too close to home for you or someone you know?

Don’t stress, there are ways to protect yourself! Depending on individual circumstances this could include entering into a Cohabitation Agreement, which is an agreement that sets out how property will be divided (or not divided) in the event of a future separation.