Should the state re-write relationship rules?

On the one hand, the federal government continues to block marriage-like ceremonies for gay couples who want one. But on the other hand, it is planning to impose marriage-like financial responsibilities on gay couples – and opposite-sex couples – even if they don’t want them.

In an SMH opinion piece against this change, University of Sydney law academic Patrick Parkinson explains the change this way:

The big difference [between married and de facto], in NSW at least, is that the courts only divide the property [of former de facto partners] based on an assessment of the parties’ contributions to that property (including contributions as a homemaker and parent). For married couples, the court also looks at the future needs of each partner and their financial resources.

As Parkinson argues, there are good reasons why couples might want to choose not to get married, and as a result have fewer legal protections, but also fewer legal risks. They might not be sure that the relationship is long-term (de facto couples have much higher rates of relationship breakdown than married couples). They might be legitimately protecting the interests of other parties, such as the inheritances of children from previous relationships or, in Parkinson’s example, inheritances from other relatives who may have intended to keep the money in the family (though those people could use trusts to help avoid the money falling into the wrong hands).
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