These violent delights have violent ends, And in their triumph die; like fire and powder,
Which, as they kiss, consume: the sweetest honey
Is loathsome in his own deliciousness,
And in the taste confounds the appetite:
Therefore love moderately: long love doth so.
Friar Lawrence, Romeo & Juliet, Act 2, Scene 6
Shakespeare was an unapologetic romantic, but the above does show that relationships can be chaotic, fast and destructive. In a legal context, this quote can be used to warn of the dangers of rushing into De Facto relationships which break down soon after they have begun.
Legally, marriage is a contract, binding the financials, child rearing responsibilities and cohabitation rights of two people, with a clear point of creation i.e. the wedding. Whereas, De Facto Relationships are an informal version of marriage, inferred over time and circumstance.
Now this inference of a relationship is all well and good for relationships which endure over time. But for relationships which flare up and fizzle out in no time at all, the legal state of issues such as money brought to the relationship hover in an awkward limbo.
For instance, if you were in a relationship for a year, you had moved into together, and joined finances, but then the relationship broke down, what would happen? Normally this would be treated like a divorce. This means the parties’ relative financial contributions, the amount of work they performed and the child caring arrangements, etc. during the marriage are carefully weighed and from this a division plan for the couple’s assets is reached.
But in the above hypothetical, this is not the case, as for De Facto relationships to be valid, they must at a minimum exists for two years (or earlier, where there is a child through the relationship). So, what happens? Well, the short answer is it’s messy.
Property bought by individuals is retained. Property bought together needs to be gifted to one partner, their share sold to the other, or sold outright to a third party. But what about money spent on the other partner?
Unfortunately, this will probably be mostly lost. Money spent on a partner to treat them is considered a gift. Just because you were together then, and subsequently breaking up does not mean you have a right to recover. The money at the time was intended to be a gift.
Admittedly, not all money is necessary lost. A general rule of thumb for loans to family members or partners is that such loans can be valid, it is just a matter of proving the money was given with the understanding it would be repaid. Therefore, if money was lent to help pay off a partner’s car, for example, and you have texts showing explicitly this was a loan, then you have a basis to recover. This does not mean recovery is guaranteed. Many other factors come into play, such as the strength of your evidence, the surrounding circumstances, or even if the other partner has the money to repay. But it does mean you can try.
Ultimately, relationships are unpredictable. Things can move faster than anticipated, or in unexpected directions. This is a reality of life. Therefore, it never hurts to take precautions. So, if you find yourself in a De Facto relationship which is moving quickly, just remember that recovery of money is hard. If money is to be lent, get proof (ideally a signed contract) and maybe hold off on grandiose expenses until you are sure the relationship is on sound footing. Hopefully this advice will never be needed, but if it is, these tips might just spare you some unnecessary financial grief.
This article is intended only to provide a summary of the subject matter covered. It does not purport to be comprehensive or to render legal advice. No reader should act on the basis of any matter contained in this article without first obtaining specific professional advice.
DISCLAIMER: We accept no responsibility for any action taken after reading this article. It is intended as a guide only and is not a substitute for the expert legal advice you can get from De Marco Lawyers and other relevant experts.