A Guide to Your Entitlements in Marriage, De Facto, Civil Unions & more

To propose or not to propose? That is a question increasingly facing many Australians.
Research by the RSVP dating service in 2012 found that while many single Australians are searching for “the one”, marriage itself is not strictly a requirement.

This guide looks at some areas of the law that affect people who choose to be in a life-long relationship, with or without getting married.


As a long standing tradition, marriage is well established in law. Married couples are entitled to a range of rights should the relationship breakdown.

This includes the right to file for property settlement within 12 months of a divorce becoming final. Another right is spousal maintenance. This is a form of financial support paid by one former partner to the other in order to support them. As with property settlement claims, a spousal maintenance claim must be made one year of a divorce becoming final.

De Facto Relationships

There are only a few minor differences between the rights of a de facto couple and that of a married couple under family law.

To qualify as a de facto couple in NSW, you generally must have been living together for at least two years or have a child together. This applies to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. In some cases, couples who do not live together may still be considered as de facto, such as when they formally register the relationship.

In New South Wales, de facto relationships place an emphasis on financial contributions to a relationship, rather than other contributions. These considerations are likely to be weighed more heavily when separating assets or applying for support.

Registered Relationships (“Civil Unions”)

The ACT, New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria have relationship registration and civil partnership schemes that grant formal recognition to couples.

As same-sex marriage is not yet legalised in Australia, relationship registration schemes are most commonly pertinent to same-sex couples.

One of the primary benefits of registering a relationship is that the couple is not required to live with one another.

Under the Relationships Register Act, two adults are able to register as long as at least one of them resides in NSW, they are not related by blood, and neither person is already in a relationship (registered or otherwise), married, or part of another couple.
Once a relationship is registered, the partners are seen as de facto, with all the rights that this entails.

Contact DGB Lawyers

If you are considering separation from your partner – or are going through a separation – make sure that you know your relationship rights. Our family law specialists can help you understand your rights and obligations, ensuring you are treated fairly under the law.

For reliable, responsive and personalised legal advice, contact DGB Lawyers and make an appointment. Email us at dgb@dgblaw.com.au or fill in our online contact form.

Alternatively, you can call or visit our Sydney office:

56 Central Avenue, NSW 2529
Ph. 02 4243 8930
96 Kembla Street, NSW 2500

Ph. (02) 4229 5699