Are We in a De Facto Relationship? 31 Jul 2017

What is a De Facto Relationship?



If you are in a de facto relationship, there could be significant financial implications for you if you separate, or if your partner (or you) dies. The principal piece of legislation which deals with the division of property belonging to couples or married couples is the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 (the PRA). Substantial reforms in 2001 extended the scope of the PRA to cover de facto relationships. But what exactly constitutes a de facto relationship in the eyes of the law?

The PRA states that the basic criteria for a de facto relationship are:

Living together as a couple


The PRA sets out a list of matters to be taken into account in considering whether two people ‘live together as a couple’. These matters are:

This is not an exclusive list; any other circumstances can be considered. There will be situations where some circumstances are more relevant than others. Also, no one specific factor is a necessary condition to determine whether or not there is a de facto relationship.

There have been cases where the court has found there to be a de facto relationship even though the two people are not residing together. That said, whilst cohabitation isn’t absolutely necessary for a de facto relationship to exist, it is a very persuasive factor.

What is not a de facto relationship?


Various relationships can easily be identified as falling outside the definition of a de facto relationship. For example, a boyfriend/ girlfriend relationship where both people have independent lives and do not cohabit does not have the hallmarks of a de facto relationship, even if it is a close, personal and sexual one.

If two people’s relationship is not a de facto relationship (or they’re not married or not in a civil union) they fall outside the scope of the PRA. If these people have issues relating to property, they must therefore use some other legal remedy to try to resolve their property-related dispute.

The question that often arises in these cases is just when a relationship shifts from being a more casual type of relationship to a qualifying de facto relationship to which the PRA applies. In each case, that will involve a detailed consideration of the above factors, and possibly others.

How we can help


If you need further advice about how the PRA could apply to you, and possible steps you may be able to take to contract out of it, please be in touch.


Used by permission, Copyright of NZ Law Limited, 2017

This article is not a substitute for legal advice and you should talk to a lawyer about your specific situation. Should you need any assistance please contact Lois Flanagan at Parry Field Lawyers (348-8480).