Living together but not planning to get married? Why you should consider registering your relationship

What is a registered relationship?

Many States and Territories (with the exception of Western Australia and Northern Territory) provide couples with an alternative to marriage in the form of a relationship register.

The Relationships Register Act 2006 (SA), which came into operation on 1 August 2017, makes it possible for a couple to register their relationship with the office of Births, Deaths and Marriages in South Australia.

A registered relationship is similar to marriage, in that it provides automatic recognition of your relationship under South Australian law. Registering your relationship allows you to access legal entitlements and assert your rights in various areas of law, including for medical situations and estate administration.

Is registering a relationship the same as getting married?

Registering your relationship is not the same as getting married. The two main differences are:

  • Marriages are recognised both interstate and internationally, but registered relationships are not reliably recognised overseas/interstate unless there is corresponding law in that country or state;
  • Marriages cannot officially end until the parties have been separated for at least 12 months. However, registered relationships can end by application of either party after a 90-day cooling-off period, or sooner if either party gets married. Parties do not need to provide any evidence of their separation. 

Who can register a relationship?

Any two people over the age of 18 who are in a relationship as a couple may apply to register their relationship provided that:

  • At least one person resides in South Australia;
  • Neither party is married;
  • Neither party is in a registered relationship already;
  • Neither party is in a relationship as a couple with anyone else;
  • The parties are not related by family.

How long does it take to register a relationship?

The Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages may register a relationship 28 days after an application is made. The 28-day period provides a “cooling off period” whereby either party may withdraw the application.

Once your relationship is registered under the Relationships Register Act, it is recognised automatically. 

Do you always need to register your relationship before it is recognised legally?

Many couples do not take any formal steps to register their relationship so that it is legally recognised. Once parties have lived together or been in a relationship for the relevant amount of time, their relationship can be deemed a de facto relationship or a domestic partnership. 

In some situations, there is no set time limit that you must live with a partner before your relationship is recognised (eg. for Centrelink, taxation and reproductive technology purposes). 

In other situations, in the absence of registration, relationships will not be legally recognised unless the partners have lived together for a minimum amount of time, or have a child together.

The minimum time requirement differs depending on the area of law and jurisdiction.  For migration matters, a de facto relationship is recognised after 1 year. For family law property or spousal maintenance disputes, a de facto relationship is recognised after 2 years. Under South Australian law, the minimum time requirement is 3 years.  

This means that if you have lived with your partner for less than 3 years (and have not registered your relationship or had a child together), your relationship would not be recognised under state law, including in the following situations:

  • If one partner passes away without leaving a Will;
  • If one partner makes an inadequate provision for the other in their Will;
  • For superannuation entitlements under a State scheme;
  • If a partner passes away as a result of a negligent act;
  • If a partner passes away as a result of a crime;
  • If a partner passes away as a result of a workplace death. 

Benefits of registering your relationship

Registering your relationship means that you can access the same rights and entitlements as a married couple. Your relationship will be recognised legally, without having to wait for the minimum time requirements to lapse.

Furthermore, even if you have met the minimum time requirement, but there is doubt about whether your relationship is a genuine domestic partnership, a court could be asked to make a declaration on this.

If your relationship is registered, it is recognised automatically and a formal declaration from a court is not required. For instance, if your partner dies without a Will, or leaves you out of their Will (and your relationship is not registered), a declaration that you were in a domestic partnership with your partner must be obtained from a court before making a claim. Such an application is costly and can delay the administration of an Estate. It may include obtaining evidence from neighbours, friends and families about your relationship.

Effects of registering your relationship on your Will

Registering a relationship automatically revokes a Will, unless the Will was made in contemplation of the registered relationship (like with marriage). Likewise, the end of the registered relationship revokes any bequest to the former partner or appointment of the former partner as executor unless it is clear from the Will that the end of the registered relationship is to have no effect (like with divorce).

If you are considering registering your relationship or have recently done so, contact our office on (08) 8223 3199 to book an appointment with one of our solicitors for advice regarding registering your relationship and its implications, and/or reviewing your Estate Planning as a result. 

This blog post was written by Senior Associate Linna Tran. 

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