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Children's matter

Were you in a de facto relationship?

A de facto relationship is defined in Section 4AA of the Family Law Act 1975. The law requires that you and your former partner, who may be of the same or opposite sex, had a relationship as a couple living together on a genuine domestic basis. However, your relationship is not a de facto relationship if you were legally married to one another or if you are related by family.

But what counts as de facto? Does going to all the same events together, does attending family gatherings, does having a hild?

In Crick & Bennett [2018] FamCAFC 68 (13 April 2018) the Full Court (Ainslie-Wallace, Aldridge & Watts JJ) dismissed the De Facto Husband (DF Husband)’s appeal against Tonkin J’s declaration that a de facto relationship existed while he lived in the De Facto Wife (DF Wife)’s home from 2001 to 2014. He argued that despite having a child in 2003 they had lived apart under one roof since 2004, never acquiring any joint property or operating any joint account.

The DF Wife gave evidence that the parties went out to events where they ‘presented as a couple’ but the DF Husband denied this. The DF Husband accepted that the parties attended many family, social and school events with their child but denied that when they were at these events the parties ‘presented as a couple’. The Full Court indicated that the DF Husband “did not set out any facts or circumstances that could illuminate his assertion and it is impossible to attribute any probative weight to that evidence.”

In this case, the Full Court placed highest importance to the determination of whether the parties had ‘a relationship as a couple living together on a genuine domestic basis’ [s4AA(1)(c)) of the Act]. The concept of whether the parties are a ‘couple’ is part of the test. The primary Judge in this case found that between the alleged period the parties attended many social and family events including family Christmases, birthdays, events held at the parties home and at their relatives’ home as well as the child’s school functions. The Full Court continued to state “This was significant evidence of the public aspects of the . . . relationship and supported a finding that there was a de facto relationship. If the appellant wished to contend that the parties’ conduct at those events led to a different conclusion then it was incumbent on him to adduce evidence to support that proposition”.

Other than establishing that you were ‘living together on a genuine domestic basis’ you’re your former partner, you must satisfy the Court of all of the following:

  1. you meet one of the following four gateway criteria

    1. That the period for the de facto relationship is at least 2 years

    2. That there is a child in the de facto relationship

    3. That the relationship is or was registered under a prescribed law of a State or Territory

    4. When assessing property or custodial claims in cases of a breakdown of a relationship, it is recognised that significant contributions were being made by one party and the failure to issue an order would result in a serious injustice

  2. you have a geographical connection to a participating jurisdiction

  3. your relationship broke down after 1 March 2009 (or after 1 July 2010 if you have a geographical connection to South Australia only); although you may be able to apply to the courts if your relationship broke down prior to the date applicable to your state.

In the event of a breakdown of a de facto relationship, you must apply for de facto financial orders within two years of the breakdown of your relationship. After this time you need the Court's permission to apply.

If you are uncertain as to whether your relationship constitutes a de facto relationship, or if you are in one that has unfortunately broken down and you would like to discuss further what your entitlements are, please do not hesitate to contact one of our approachable and experienced family lawyers. The number to dial is 03 9614 7111, or email us out of hours on melbourne@nevettford.com.au.

Is your Recovery Order Application warranted?

Recovery orders are usually made for a child to be returned to their primary carer, or the parent with whom a parenting order states the child lives with or the parent who has parental responsibility for the child.

In Renald & Renald (No.2) [2017] FamCAFC 133 (14 July 2017) on appeal, Thackray J set aside a Magistrates’ Court refusal to make a recovery order for the Mother. In this case the Father withheld the children after the Mother agreed to him having the children outside Interim Orders, saying the children did not wish to return to the Mother. Thackray J said that an order requiring the child to be returned “may send a message to the legal profession and their clients that the Court is willing to enforce its orders, and that parents should not take matters into their own hands where there is no evidence of risk”.

On one hand, parents should not be taking matters into their own hands, particularly swaying away Court Orders, including unilaterally withholding a child or removing a child from his/her primary carer where no evidence of risk is present. Aside from the fact that there is a potential breach of the Orders, you may run the risk of a recovery application with an order for costs made against you.

On the other hand, before rushing off and making an application for recovery order, it is always sensible to see if the situation can be resolved between the parents outside Court. It might be worthwhile sending a text to the other parent withholding the child setting a deadline, for example – “you are currently in breach of the Orders, unless you return the child back by 10:00am tomorrow, I will have to take legal actions in Court”. The Court would want to see that you have taken steps to find the child and made several attempts to negotiate with the other parent for the child’s return before taking appropriate action to involve outside authorities such as the Australian Federal Police to find, recover and deliver the child to you. It is also important that you collect as much information as possible about where the child is likely to be to increase your chances of recovering the child. Therefore your Affidavit material is absolutely crucial in this circumstance.

If all else fails and the child is still not returned to you, consider seeking legal advice from our friendly and experienced family lawyers who can assist you promptly through this emotional and difficult situation.