De facto relationships

It is simple to know if two people are married to each other. But if you are in a relationship with someone and are not married to them, it can be harder to know when you go from being 'together' to being in a de facto relationship

This information is designed to help you understand how the law defines and identifies de facto relationships.

What is a de facto relationship in Western Australia?

It is a relationship between two people who are not married to each other, but live together in a relationship that is like marriage. The term de facto means 'of fact'; you are not a married couple, but you behave as if you are.

The factors that are looked at to work out whether you are (or were) in a de facto relationship with someone include:

  • the length of the relationship
  • whether you live together, and for how long
  • whether there is a sexual relationship
  • how you organise your finances together
  • whether you own property together
  • whether you care for or support children
  • how you act about your relationship with others or in public, and
  • how much each of you are committed to a shared life.
Who can be in a de facto relationship?

De facto relationships can be between two people of the same sex or opposite sex. You can be in a de facto relationship with someone even if you are still legally married to, or in another de facto relationship with, a third person.

You do not need to be an adult to be in a de facto relationship; it just needs to be a relationship that is 'like' a marriage. However, you cannot be in a de facto relationship with someone if you are related to them.

Why does it matter whether or not I'm in a de facto relationship?

Since 2002, the family law in Western Australia has recognised de facto relationships. Although you are not a married couple, the family law applies to you and your partner as if you were actually married. 

This means you can ask the Family Court to make decisions about dividing property and maintenance or apply for parenting orders for step-children from a previous de facto relationship, and the court will treat your de facto relationship as if it were a legal marriage. 


The information displayed on this page is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have a legal problem, you should see a lawyer. Legal Aid Western Australia aims to provide information that is accurate, however does not accept responsibility for any errors or omissions in the information provided on this page or incorporated into it by reference.