Decoding De Facto Relationships of a Secret Affair

In 2009, the Australian Federal Government have broadened the scope of the Family Law Act to encompass de facto relationships alongside marriages. However, some people might experience concerns about mistresses claiming half of a partner’s assets. In this article, we will use the case of Jonah v White 2012 48 Fam LR 562 to discuss the complexities surrounding the definition of de facto relationships and the how the factors for determining the de facto relationships are considered by the court in a case-by-case basis.

Firstly, the Section 4 AA of Family Law Act 1975 defines a de facto relationship as a couple living together on a genuine domestic basis, considering factors like the length of the relationship, common residence, sexual relationship, financial arrangements, property ownership, childcare, public reputation, and mutual commitment.

Moreover, to determine if individuals are in a de facto relationship, the court considers various factors, such as the duration of the relationship (normally, it should last at least two years), the nature of their shared residence, the presence of a sexual relationship, the extent of financial arrangements and interdependence, property ownership or usage, childcare and support, the public perception of the relationship, and the mutual commitment to a shared life. If someone meets the criteria for a de facto relationship, they may be eligible to seek property settlement and/or spouse maintenance despite if any parties to the relationship is already legally married to someone else or in another de facto relationship.

According to the case which involved a clandestine affair from 1992 to 2009. Mr. White, who are married with three children, maintained a secret relationship with Ms. Jonah. They both lived in in their own separate homes. They would normally spend two to three days together every two to three weeks at Ms Jonah’s home or Mr White’s farm. Only on few occasions would they spend two or more weeks together or travel overseas. Moreover, Mr white would assist Ms Jonah financially monthly but other than that, their finance is kept separately. The court held that according to the Family Law Act’s definition of a de facto relationship, their secret affair did not meet the criteria outlined in the Family Law Act for a de facto relationship, and thus, Ms. Jonah was denied from claiming Mr. White’s assets.

In Jonah v White, the court’s decision rested on the perceived lack of a genuine domestic basis. Justice Murphy highlighted that due to the secretive nature of the relationship, minimal socialising as a couple, separate households, and limited involvement in each other’s lives. Despite the extended duration of their sexual relationship and occasional cohabitation, the court deemed their connection insufficient for a property settlement or spouse maintenance claim.

In conclusion, the Jonah v White case provides insights and some guidance regarding the definition of a de facto relationship in scenarios which involves mistresses. However, as it is a decision made by a single judge’s decision and might not be necessarily binding on other Family Court Judges and there can be a possibility of appeals. Moreover, the interpretation of this case by one judge may not align with how other cases are decided under different circumstances. Therefore, it is crucial to seek legal advice and in Accuro Maxwell, our team of professional Family Lawyers is equipped to assist and guide you through your unique situation, providing tailored advice on the potential outcomes of your case.

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