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Media Release - Breaking up is hard to do (17 May 2002)

Breaking up is hard to do. Particularly if you're not married.

Should the same legal consequences that attach to marriage apply equally to de facto and other close personal relationships? Should people in same sex relationships have the same legal rights as heterosexual couples?

These and many other issues are raised and discussed in the New South Wales Law Reform Commission'sDiscussion Paperlaunched today on the Review of the Property (Relationships) Act 1984 (NSW).

That legislation recognises cohabiting heterosexual and same sex de facto and other close personal relationships, for example, an adult child caring for an elderly parent. The main focus of the Act is to facilitate a fair redistribution of property and other financial resources (for example superannuation) should those relationships break down. At the moment, different legal consequences attach to relationships depending on whether the people are married, or if not married, whether the relationship is between a man and a woman or a same sex relationship.

The Commission pioneered work on the reform of relationships law way back in 1983 with its Report 36 which was the catalyst for the enactment of the De Facto Relationships Act 1984 (renamed the Property (Relationships) Act 1984). Now, almost 20 years later, the Commission is charged with the task of assessing that legislation to ensure that it reflects the diversity of family forms in which people live today.

'There are now increasing numbers of people living together without marrying, either through choice or because they are barred by law. There is also growing social and legal acceptance of a wider range of family forms. In such a rapidly changing social context, it is important that relationships law continues to be relevant to meet the needs of people adequately and appropriately', says the Deputy Chairperson of the Law Reform Commission, the Hon Jeff Shaw, QC.

In its work in this area, the Commission has been guided by four basic principles:

  • Recognising and respecting the diversity of relationships;
  • Allowing parties to order their own financial affairs subject to safeguards to ensure that agreements are voluntary and fair;
  • Facilitating a just and equitable resolution of financial matters after separation;
  • Providing a fair, timely and affordable process for resolving disputes about financial matters.

The Commission is now seeking input from interested groups and members of the public on the questions and issues raised in the Discussion Paper. There will be an official launch tonight at 6pm in the Dixson Room in the State Library.

Copies of the Discussion Paper may be obtained from the Commission on (02) 9228 8230 or from the Commission’s website:

Media Enquiries: Peter Hennessy, Executive Director (02) 9228 8230.