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It is often said that ‘perception is reality’ that also can apply to how two (2) people view their relationship as being a casual relationship, such as boyfriend / girlfriend, or a more committed relationship such as a de facto relationship.

Whether a relationship is characterised as a de facto relationship can lead to a person having entitlements to bring a claim against another party’s property, or income for spousal maintenance purposes.

People can have very different views not only about whether they are in a de facto relationship but the length of the relationship, as well.

In a recent case, the Family Court had to determine whether the parties had been living together in a de facto relationship for a period of seven (7) years as claimed by one party or if it was only for three (3) months, as claimed by the other party.

The Court had to consider not only the views each party held about the nature of their relationship but also consider the evidence given by various witnesses that had been called about the public aspect and reputation of their relationship.

In this particular case, one of the parties worked as a fly in fly out (FIFO) worker and was away for periods of 28 days at a time, working interstate, and only back in the home for seven (7) days living in the property with the other party.

However, the Court looked to the evidence of how the parties conducted their relationship while they lived in separate geographical locations. The evidence involved numerous messages that had been exchanged between the parties which were related to normal issues arising from the day-to-day life and sharing of joint domestic duties as a couple. The messages also held expressions of love. Both parties admitted to having a sexual relationship.

The Court also referred to documents that had been completed by the parties and declarations that had been set out in documents that had been provided to public authorities such as Centrelink, the Australian Taxation Office and even messages that had been posted to Facebook.

The Court also had to consider the use of the word ‘partner’ as opposed to the use of the words ‘boyfriend / girlfriend’.

In regards to looking at the issue as to whether the parties had a degree of financial interdependence on each other, the Court looked at not only the sharing of household expenses but the provision and use of credit cards and providing money to assist each other in payment of expenses associated with their life together.

The parties lived on a rural property and cared for farm animals, particularly by one party when at times the other party was working away, was also considered.

Even though in this case both parties admitted to engaging in infidelity, ultimately, the Judge found that they had persevered in their relationship, which demonstrated a mutual commitment to a shared life.

After looking at all of the evidence, the Court found the parties did in fact live together in a de facto relationship for a period of four (4) years and six (6) months.