Yukio Hayashi 27 Apr 2017
Q: Approximately four years ago, I had a de facto relationship with a man who was my flatmate. He was busy working full-time, so I worked part-time and did the cooking, washing and cleaning of the house. Last year, with my savings (approximately $10,000) we remodelled the house. I thought we would continue to live a happy life. However, recently my boyfriend said, ‘Let’s end the relationship. Leave’. When I asked for him to give back my $10,000 used to remodel the house he said, ‘This is my house. You decided to remodel the house yourself’. Is there any way in which I can at least get some of my money back?
A: If you are married and were in a de facto relationship, and (1) the relationship lasted more than two years, (2) a child was born during the relationship, and (3) “great contribution” was made for the family and it would be “very unfair” to disallow it – if any of the three requirements are met, you will have the right to a divorce and distribution of assets (s 90SB).
With regards to (1), it is a matter of when the “de facto relationship” began. According to s4AA (1), a de facto relationship is “a couple that acts as though they were married but live together (genuine domestic)”. “Couple cohabitation” is determined by factors such as how a couple is using their home, if they are sexually active, sharing finances, and by taking into consideration the promises they make about each other’s lives (Section 4AA (2)). Additionally, even if the individuals themselves did not state that they were in a relationship but from a third-party perspective it was evident that they were, although it is quite rare for it to happen, it will be considered a de facto relationship in court (Smyth & Pappas  FamCA 434). This individual will need to provide evidence that it went from “flat mate from two years ago” to a “de facto relationship”.
For (3), in regards to “donations”, even if the $10,000 was used for the renovation of the house, it may be considered a “money contribution”. Housework done in addition to this can also be considered “non-financial contribution” (s90SM). If it is not recognised as a contribution, you may try to convince the court that it is “very unfair”. Either way, based on the legal evidence, it would be worth persuading the man to return the $10,000. Additionally, depending on the contribution, you may be entitled to more than $10,000. What if the value of the house increased $100,000 after the renovation?