Love it or loath it, The Bachelor is back! This Summer, Channel 10 is mixing it up and for the first time we will see 30 ladies fight for the love of three Bachelors: Thomas (the 35-year-old Italian Stallion), Felix (a 27-year-old former professional NBL player) and Jed (a 25-year-old alt-pop band drummer). This week the spotlight was shone on a polyamorous contestant who is in an open relationship. Although we are unsure why there was so much controversy around this topic given the Bachelors are dating ten women at once (does this not meet the definition of polyamory?), let’s take the opportunity to delve into the consequences of polyamory and how a relationship is identified in the eyes of the law, explains Attwood Marshall Lawyers Family Law Senior Associate, and reality TV expert, Hayley Condon.
This week saw the start of the controversial realty series, The Bachelor, returning to our screens for its 10th season.
The series was filmed in April 2022 on the Gold Coast, with promises of sordid twists and turns and a new format for the show.
In a world first for the global dating series, there are three Bachelors, each dating ten of the thirty women who have been carefully selected this time by the Bachelors themselves after brief 20 minute speed dates, with the end goal being to find “the one”. With this type of in-depth screening on compatibility, how could The Bachelors not find everlasting love?
Episode 3 of season 10 aired on Wednesday 11th January and bought with it the usual chaos and drama we have come to expect from this series – when 30 contestants take up residence together and vie for the love of one person in the hope of receiving a marriage proposal at the end… but this year there are three hearts on offer.
In this episode we were introduced to Jess, a contestant looking for love. The surprise twist; Jess is polyamorous and is currently in an open relationship.
The news of Jess’s relationship status was met with mixed emotions, with the show’s villain, Tash (a Victorian vying for Jed’s heart), exposing Jess’s secret to Bachelors Jed and Felix in an attempt to expedite her exit from the show.
When it comes to The Bachelor, these series are often filmed over the course of a couple months, with The Bachelor usually proposing to their chosen contestant in the finale. But is a relationship formed on The Bachelor considered a de facto relationship in the eyes of the law? Let’s delve deeper.
Polyamory and open relationships in the eyes of the law
In Australia, if two people are regarded as being in a de facto relationship under the Family Law Act (“the Act”), then the de facto partners are afforded the same rights and protections under the Act as two people who are married.
A de facto relationship is defined in Section 4AA of the Family Law Act as a relationship between two persons who are not legally married to each other, who are not related by family and who having regard to all the circumstances are a couple living together on a genuine domestic basis.
The factors that are considered by a Court when determining if a de facto relationship exists between two people include, but are not limited to:
- The duration of the relationship
- The nature and extent of their common residence
- Whether a sexual relationship exists
- Whether there is an element of financial dependence or interdependence
- If the couple own or utilise property together
- The degree of mutual commitment to a shared life
- If the relationship has been registered under a State or Territory law
- The care and support of any children
- The public’s perception of the relationship.
It does not matter if you are in more than one relationship. With this definition of de facto relationship in the Family Law Act, each one of the relationships will be identified as either a marriage or a de facto relationship if the criteria is met for such a relationship and certain rights and protections will flow from this under the Family Law Act for those persons involved.
With de facto relationships recognised by law, this means that when a de facto relationship comes to an end, the de facto partner can commence proceedings for a property settlement, and potentially spousal maintenance, if the de facto relationship has subsisted for a total period of 2 years or there is a child of the relationship, or the parties meet the other criteria under Section 90SB of the Act. If someone is in multiple relationships that by legal definition are considered a de facto relationship or a marriage, and all relationships come to an end at the same time, that person may see themselves involved in multiple property settlements and providing maintenance to multiple former partners at the same time.
When a couple ends their relationship (whether a marriage or a de facto relationship), a property settlement will often follow whereby the former couple divide up their assets and liabilities to finalise all financial ties to one another, and to avoid either party making a claim on such property down the track.
There is a five-step process used by the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia to determine how the property of the parties to a marriage or a de facto relationship is divided between them in a property settlement.
The majority of property settlements are settled through alternative dispute resolution, before the matter progresses to the point of a Court becoming involved.
What if the couple does not live together?
Although one of the criteria that is considered when determining if a de facto relationship exists between two people is whether they share a common residence, a de facto relationship can still exist if the parties involved retain their own homes. It is often the case that the parties to a relationship own a home before meeting each other and retain their properties but choose to regularly spend nights together at each other’s residences.
The fact that the parties in the relationship retain a separate residence does not of itself exclude a de facto relationship from existing – the nature of the relationship is considered on its own facts having regard to the criteria mentioned above. If a relationship ticks numerous boxes related to the relationship’s longevity, financial reliance (including joint use/acquisition of property) and public portrayal or sexual aspects, then it may be deemed a de facto relationship.
How to protect your assets when entering into a relationship
When entering a new relationship, it can be beneficial to execute a Financial Agreement under the Family Law Act in order to protect your assets from a property claim if the relationship doesn’t work out.
A Binding Financial Agreement is legally binding and stipulates how a couple’s assets will be divided if their relationship comes to an end. A Binding Financial Agreement can be entered into at any stage of a relationship; however, it is best to enter into this type of agreement early in a new relationship.
Attwood Marshall Lawyers – helping people navigate separation and negotiate property settlements
When a relationship comes to an end, it is important to get trusted legal advice from a qualified family lawyer as soon as possible. A family lawyer can help you understand how to protect your interests and formalise a settlement as quickly as possible so that all parties can move on with their lives.
At Attwood Marshall Lawyers, we have a team of family lawyers who practice exclusively in this complex area of law. Our team are able to handle all aspects of family law including divorce applications, property settlements, binding financial agreements, parenting arrangements, spousal maintenance, and child support.