How do I know if I am in a de facto relationship?

In the past, romantic relationships typically ended in marriage, but as time has passed, moral values and ethical scales have changed. With this has come the general acceptance that de facto relationships are an acceptable and rewarding connection with another person.

Under New Zealand family law, a de facto relationship comes with a number of legal considerations, which can have significant financial implications if you separate or if your partner passes away.

The primary legislation that governs the division of property for people in qualifying relationships is the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 (PRA). Following substantial reform in 2001, the scope of the law has expanded to define de facto relationships. So what does this definition look like and how can individuals know if they are in a de facto relationship?

Residential property can be divided if you are within a de facto relationship.

Broad definition of a de facto relationship

The PRA defines a de facto relationship as follows:  

  1. A relationship between two people (whether heterosexual or homosexual) where the parties;
  2. Are both over the age of 18;
  3. Are not married to each other, (however they can be married to another person); and
  4. Are living together as a couple.

The requirement that the parties are living together as a couple can be ambiguous and lead New Zealanders to misunderstand the legal status of their relationship (and implications of such). Fortunately, the PRA outlines a number of specific considerations when looking at whether two people live together as a couple..

What does living together as a couple mean?

In considering whether two people are living together as a couple, all circumstances of the relationship are to be taken into account.  It is fact specific, and will depend on the circumstances of the particular case.

The duration of the relationship is one of the factors to consider. Typically the longer you have been together the more likely it is that you are in a qualifying relationship. 

Additionally, the longer two people stay together at the same residence, the more chance they will be found to be living together as a couple. However, this is not always the case. Two people could be found to live together even if they do not reside at the same address. 

The use, ownership and purchase of property is a major consideration in determining whether two people are in a de facto relationship. Joint ownership of property, particularly residential property, is often a good indicator of parties living together as a couple.

Furthermore, if a couple uses common property such as a car or makes other purchases together, this is also a sign. The performance of household duties, public appearance of the relationship and degree of financial independence are also relevant factors.

Another core aspect of this criterion is the idea of a mutual commitment to a shared life. While there are objective factors that are taken into account to identify the degree of mutual commitment to a shared life, the law also takes into consideration subjective elements such as how independent the parties are in their actions and activities. 

Do you know if you are in a de facto relationship?Do you know if you are in a de facto relationship?

What a de facto relationship is not

When defining something it can be easier to stipulate what it is not. Use the example of a boyfriend and girlfriend who both have been together for 18 months, who live independent lives and do not cohabit – even though they have an intimate, personal and even sexual relationship – they do not meet the criteria for a de facto relationship under the PRA. 

If a relationship falls short of being considered a de facto relationship, and the parties are neither married nor in a civil union, then the PRA does not apply to govern any disputes regarding their property. It is important to talk to an experienced lawyer about any potential dispute as to property.

If you would like to know more about when a relationship transitions from casual to de facto, and what the legal implications are talk to the experts at Wynyard Wood today. 

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