If you’ve recently split from your partner or simply wondering what might happen if you do, you’ll need to keep your financial wits about you as a division of assets and debts, whether they’re held separately or together, may be on the cards.
Here are some of the things to be aware of when it comes to de facto splits and your finances.
How does the law define a de facto relationship?
A de facto relationship is where two people of the same or opposite sex live together on a genuine domestic basis as a couple.1
They cannot be married to each other or related by family, but it is possible for one person to be married to someone else, or even in another de facto relationship.2
If we break up, do we have to go to court?
You may need to arrange how property of the relationship—so your assets and debts—will be divided, and this can be formalised between the two of you without any court involvement.3
Meanwhile, if you can’t agree, you can apply to a court for financial orders regarding the division of property and possibly superannuation, while spouse maintenance may also be payable.4
This must be done within two years of you splitting from your former partner otherwise you’ll need the court’s ok to make an application.5
When can orders about the division of property be made?
The family law courts can order a division of any property you and your de facto own—regardless of whether you own it together or separately—if satisfied of one of the following6:
- The de facto relationship lasted at least two years
- There is a child of the de facto relationship
- One party made substantial financial or non-financial contributions and serious injustice would result if the order to split property was not made
- The relationship is registered in a state or territory with laws for the registration of relationships.
Also note that while laws relating to de factos are generally consistent across Australia, those in Western Australia remain subject to state law.7
What does ‘property of the relationship’ actually include?
Property includes all assets and debts held in joint or separate names, and may include that which you acquired before or even after the relationship ends. This could include things like8:
- The family home
- Cars and boats
- Household and personal items, such as furniture, white goods and jewellery
- Business and property investments
- Home loan debt
- Money owing on credit cards or personal loans.
How is superannuation affected?
Under superannuation splitting laws, if you separate, it’s possible you’ll get some of your ex-partner’s super or that they’ll get some of yours.
However, because super is held in a trust and differs from other types of property, there are rules around when these assets can be accessed.9
What this means is splitting super does not necessarily convert it into cash, as it’s still subject to certain rules, which may mean that you might not be able to access the money for a long time.10
Other things to think about
- What your financial situation might look like after the separation
- What financial adjustments you may need to make
- Your will and any other instances where you may have named your ex as a beneficiary.
It may be a good idea to seek legal advice and ASIC’s MoneySmart website has information about free legal services. A financial adviser could also help you determine the long-term outcomes of different settlement options, and if you don’t have one, our find an adviser tool can help.
1, 2 Family Court of Australia – de facto relationships
3, 4, 5 Family Court of Australia – property and finances after separation
6, 7 Department of Social Services fact sheet – property division when de facto relationships break down
8 Relationships Australia – negotiating your property settlement
9, 10 Australian Government – superannuation splitting laws
People in relationships are spending over $11 billion a year on purchases their other half knows nothing about.