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Choosing between a house and a household

Decisions around money and relationships can be life changing - for example, would you choose a house over getting married?

For many Australians, marriage is still seen as the ultimate form of commitment — even more so than buying a property together. Although the majority of people may agree with this statement, the law treats de-facto couples as it would a married couple according to law firm Slater and Gordon.

“Since 2009, de facto couples have had the same rights and obligations as married couples in Australia,” says Heather McKinnon, Family Lawyer at Slater and Gordon.

So, is marriage still the biggest step in your relationship? Or has the modern approach to relationships, legal contracts and financial co-dependency changed this notion?

Saving up for a ring or a deposit?

While some couples may be poring over a home loan calculator, others will find themselves inextricably drawn towards white gowns, coats with tails and an expensive week away.

According to research commissioned by family lawyers Slater and Gordon, 67 percent of Australians believe that tying the knot is the biggest step a couple can take together.

Of those surveyed, 28 percent felt that moving in or buying a home together was the biggest commitment a pair of lovebirds could make. Three percent of respondents felt that opening a joint cheque or savings account required the most trust.

Which way is right for you?

The legal firm responsible for the survey confirms that in the eyes of the law, whether married, de facto or same-sex de facto, all lasting relationships are treated equally in terms of finance and possessions. 

In the unfortunate event of a breakdown in a relationship, according to the Family Law Courts, de facto couples are tied into each other’s finances and property in the same way people commonly perceive married couples to be. That is, that upon a split, a rationalisation of assets and duties of care may be undertaken.

Although this was not always the case, relationships that are entered into, or end, after 1 March 2009 are treated in an equal manner when it comes to the legal standing of contributions of partners to the relationship.

Previously, those who contributed financially to a de facto relationship benefited more from the split of assets upon exiting the relationship than a partner that was a homemaker. This has now changed to reflect the various roles in a de facto partnership, in the same way the different possible responsibilities within a marriage are recognised.

Is the order of events important?

Of course in a lot of traditions, both modern and old, the process of finding a life partner and taking on life’s journey together is dictated by moral mores. In some cultures the joining of two households has very little to do with financial issues, while for others it takes on a very prominent role in the process of union.

“Some people live together first, others decide not to marry at all, some buy property before getting married and others wait until after marriage to open a joint bank account,” said Ms McKinnon.

She continued: “There is no right or wrong when it comes to getting married, buying property or moving in together. At the end of the day, only a couple can decide what is best for them.”

Whether you get a joint credit card before marriage, or after you have a contract to purchase property, is entirely up to you as a couple. However, it usually pays to seek the wisdom of those that have already trod that path.

If you’re considering one of these major life-changing decisions, talking to a parent, community leader or financial specialist may be the next step to take.

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