As far as property settlements go, one of the most common questions we receive through out Ask a Lawyer service is: “What am I entitled to in a De Facto relationship?” In general, the fact of being in a de facto will have no bearing on the outcome. The duration of a relationship, on the hand, will influence the court’s assessment of the parties’ contributions. With respect to relatively short relationships, the court will generally attribute more weight to the parties’ financial contributions in determining the outcome.
Rose & Mitchell  FCCA 771 is a first-instance decision that illuminates the court’s assessment of contributions in the context of a de facto property settlement involving a short relationship. In this particular case, the parties’ relationship lasted less than 4 years. There was a singe child of the relationship. The net value of the property pool amounted to approximately $215,000.
Contributions were assessed in accordance with the factors set out in s 79 of the Family Law Act at 90/10 in favour of the husband. This assessment was largely predicated upon the husband’s substantial initial financial contribution of $250,000. The sum in question relates to the equity that had accrued in the matrimonial home. The husband was solely responsible for purchasing this home. Both parties, however, contributed in roughly equal proportions to renovating the property. The husband was found to have earned slightly more income than the wife, but the wife’s contribution to the welfare of the family was significant because she was primarily responsible for the care for the parties’ child.
The court made an adjustment of 15% percent under s 75(2) of the Family Law Act in favour of the wife. This was mainly due to her role as the child’s primary caregiver. The future expenses associated with rearing the child were also taken into account.
Ultimately, the parties’ assets were divided 75/25 in favour of the husband. The most noteworthy aspect of this decision, however, is the court’s assessment of the parties’ contributions under s 79 of the Family Law Act. In this instance, it seems to have nearly reflected the value of the assets that the parties had brought into the relationship. This stands in contrast to what typically occurs in relation to longer relationships. That is, the longer the relationship, the more likely the court will assess the parties’ respective contributions as equal. Accordingly, instead of asking “what am I entitled to in a de facto relationship?”, it may be more worthwhile to consider the duration of the relationship, and how that might affect the court’s assessment of contributions.