If you or someone you know have been in a short-term de facto relationship and are unsure of your legal rights, you may like to read on.
It is a common perception that to have any legal rights on the breakdown of a de facto relationship, that the relationship needed to (a) have been at least two years in duration or (b) have produced a child. Whilst these are the starting points, they are not the whole story.
In fact, the Family Court Act 1997 provides that a de facto partner may apply to the Family Court for orders where that person has made certain substantial contributions and where a failure to make the orders sought would result in serious injustice to that person. This provision reflects the fact that many people do not simply wait two years or until a child is born before they invest themselves heavily into their de facto relationship. Indeed, for many people, moving into a shared home or purchasing significant assets together can happen within a matter of months of the relationship forming.
To illustrate this point, Jenny and Jermaine enter a de facto relationship. Jenny has savings, owns her own car outright and is in a well-paid, secure job. Jermaine, not so much but he seems to be a really nice guy and his family are great. Three months in, they decide to move into a rental together. Jenny is the sole name on the 12 month lease as Jermaine has a poor credit rating which he blames on a former girlfriend ‘running up his credit card’ without his knowledge. Jenny pays the whole of the bond but they agree to each pay 50% of the weekly rental and household expenses. She also buys a lot of furniture and whiteware for the house. All up she spends $10,000. A month later Jermaine loses his job and with no substantial savings to fall back in Jenny is soon paying Jermaine’s 50% of the rent and household expenses, as well as paying for Jermaine’s mobile phone and his other day-to-day living expenses, which for the next nine months amounts to $25,000.
Three months later after not having been able to find alternative employment, Jermaine decides to set-up his own business. Jenny has her reservations about this course of action but she wants to be supportive and seeing as the bank has said no, she lends Jermaine the $25,000 he says he needs to get started. They do not document the fact that it was a loan, even though it was agreed that Jermaine would pay her back gradually once his business was making money. Jermaine does get some work initially, but he tells Jenny it is not enough money to start paying her back. From time to time Jermaine also asks Jenny to pay for business expenses such as insurance premiums and additional equipment. Each time he assures her he will pay her back. All up Jenny lends Jermaine a further $5,000.
After a year and nine months into the lease, the relationship ends. Jenny comes home from a weekend away to find Jermaine has moved out and taken most of the household items with him. He’s also extensively damaged the garage door and surrounds by accidentally reversing the moving truck into it. Jenny decides to temporarily move back in with her parents. The landlord enforces the balance of the three month lease term, refuses to refund the bond due to the damage to the garage door and sues Jenny for the balance of the repair bill. All up this costs Jenny a further $5,000 to sort out.
In summary, the relationship has cost Jenny a minimum of $70,000. Where to from here? The Family Court Act covers financial contributions and as such, under the above scenario rather than walking away Jenny seeks and obtains a relationship property settlement from Jermaine, and he ultimately borrows the money from his parents to pay her.
Finally, if you have read this far and think that you need some practical advice or assistance in relation to your situation, then now is probably the time to get in touch. Austral Legal can help and we offer an initial discounted 30-minute SmartMove appointment for $80 by phone or in person at our office.