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At both the State and Federal level, there are hundreds of Acts operating in Australia which legally recognise various types of relationships, usually couples or family relationships. Many of these Acts make reference to `spouses’, some of which exclusively cover married couples and many of which specifically include both married and heterosexual de facto couples.

The legislation which recognises relationships includes the rights and obligations of partners on the breakdown of a relationship, particularly in relation to property division, maintenance and responsibility for children. There are also laws concerning inheritance, worker’s compensation, superannuation, decision-making in incapacity, bail, accident compensation and stamp duty.

The Family Law Act 1975 is a Federal Act which provides a framework for the settlement of property and maintenance disputes on the breakdown of a marriage and for the care and responsibility of all children, whether born of a marriage or not. The Family Law Act applies to all States and Territories within Australia.

In some States and Territories there is legislation which covers de facto couples who have lived together for a specified period of time.

In NSW, the De Facto Relationships Act 1984 provided a framework for settling property and maintenance disputes between heterosexual de facto partners. It gave de-facto couples property rights which were similar to those of a married couple and the right to maintenance in limited circumstances. The De Facto Relationships Act 1984 (NSW) was amended and renamed the Property (Relationships) Act 1984 (NSW) in 1999.

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