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Together-apart: lifestyle choice that may have a family law catch

Craig Henderson said
"People who live apart think they're not in a de facto relationship," says Craig Henderson, of Landers & Rogers, who has practised family law for almost three decades. "It's a mistake." Living together is only one of nine criteria in the Family Law Act for establishing if a couple are in a de facto relationship. Others include the duration of a relationship, sexual activity and more amorphous concepts such as "mutual commitment to a shared life".

Together-apart: lifestyle choice that may have a catch

The Age (Melbourne)
19 April 2011

Together-apart: lifestyle choice that may have a catch
By Michelle Griffin

Living-apart-together relationships
Ken James and his partner Rosemarie Stuhlener are part of a growing group of couples that are committed to each other but choose to live apart. Photo: Penny Stephens

About 1.1 million Australians are in a committed relationship with someone they don't live with, according to research published today by the Australian Institute of Family Studies in its journal Family Matters. But family law experts warn that couples who live apart can still be defined as de factos.

''There is a potential legal timebomb ticking over,'' says Caroline Counsel, president of the Law Institute of Victoria and a family law expert.

''People who live apart think they're not in a de facto relationship,'' says Craig Henderson, of Landers & Rogers, who has practised family law for almost three decades. ''It's a mistake.''


Absence makes the heart grow fonder
Illustration: Ron Tandberg

Living together is only one of nine criteria in the Family Law Act for establishing if a couple are in a de facto relationship. Others include the duration of a relationship, sexual activity and more amorphous concepts such as ''mutual commitment to a shared life''.

Mr Henderson said: ''You can see the lights go on,'' when he gives presentations on relationship law. ''You can see they're thinking, 'Well, boy, am I in one or not?'''

There have been several cases where couples who have lived apart have sought property settlements in the family court, says Ms Counsel, but judgments in this matter are ''not a precise science. We have had cases that looked like boyfriend/girlfriend found to be de facto, and a woman who was sure she was in a de facto relationship found to be the reverse.''


This has serious implications for the many older Australian couples who decide to live apart because they already had separate houses and families when they met.

While the census bureau does not record couples who live apart, Melbourne University's survey of Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) has been tracking these relationships since 2005.

Couples older than 45 who had previously been married (but not to each other) are much more likely to stay together-apart than couples in their 20s, according to analysis of the HILDA data.

Half of the living-apart couples aged 45 or above had been together for three years or more.

Living-apart couples in their 20s typically move in together or break up within two years.

Actor Ken James, 63, and his fiancee Rosemarie Stuhlener, 60, have been living together-apart for 10 years. Mr James, best know for playing older brother Mark on Skippy, has a flat in Elwood. Ms Stuhlener, a retired Telstra senior manager, has a home in Geelong.

Although the couple spend ''three or four days a week together'' in Mr James's estimate, they have no immediate plans to combine households, even after marriage.

It works for them, says Ms Stuhlener.

''I've got a very full life and he's got a very full life. We're not pressured by what other people think, not at our age.''


Couples in singular relationship

The Australian
19 April 2011

Couples in singular relationship
By Patricia Karvelas

Partnership status by age
Source: The Australian

More than 1.1 million Australians are in what are called living-apart-together relationships - in other words they're a couple but live in different places.

An Australian Institute of Family Studies report, to be published in its Family Matters journal today, shows 24 per cent of the officially single population are actually in a relationship, although the Australian Bureau of Statistics records them as single.

Anna Reimondos, Ann Evans and Edith Gray of ANU's Australian Demographic and Social Research Institute found younger people in this "LAT" group wanted to move in together within the next three years, but two-thirds of the over-45s liked living alone and did not intend to move in with their partners, despite being in long-term relationships.

The researchers used data from the fifth wave of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey, which for the first time asked respondents who were not married and not living with a partner whether they were in a permanent relationship.

Ms Reimondos said it was the first time a clear figure had been delivered on how many people were in LAT relationships that did not involve co-habiting.

"Research from abroad shows these kinds of arrangements are increasing. There are a few reasons it could be rising - marriage dissolution rates are increasing, people are living longer so they are more likely to form these relationships," she said. "Out of the 45-and-over group, two-thirds said 'No, I do not intend to move in together'. The suggestion is they are more risk-adverse because they've probably gone through a marriage breakdown, and also there's the practicalities of joining two households and adjusting to another person's habits."

The report says it is important to understand more about these partnerships, as the lives of people who are truly single, compared with people who have a non-resident partner, are likely to be different in many respects.

The mean duration of an LAT relationship was 2.4 years and the average length 1.5 years, but the figures hid substantial variations. While 40 per cent had begun their relationship less than 12 months before the survey, 28 per cent were in a union that had lasted for three years or more. Despite not sharing the same residence, the frequency of contact between partners was high, with about 75 per cent meeting at least three times a week, and many on a daily basis.

Four types of people were involved: the under-25s with no children and no history of marriage; the young adults, previously de facto, mainly aged between 25 and 34 with no children and no marriage history; the single parents, usually over 30, most of whom had been married and had at least one child; and the older, previously married group, mainly aged 45 and over who had previously been married.

The report finds a high percentage of young adults who had previously cohabited intended to start living with their partner in the next three years, and to marry in the future.

While couples this age have in the past felt societal pressure to consolidate their relationship by living together or getting married, the survey found that with the new LAT grouping this was not the case.

"For those under 25, the single parents, and the older previously married couples, the pressure to move in with their partner is unlikely to be felt as strongly," the report says.

"Indeed, these groups may even have felt a social pressure not to live with their partner."


The hard yards of long-distance love Letitia Rowlands

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney)
19 April 2011

The hard yards of long-distance love
By Letitia Rowlands

Tim Burton and Helena Bonham-Carter live next door to each other
It works for them … Tim Burton and Helena Bonham-Carter live next door to each other. Source: The Daily Telegraph

And they lived happily ever after … in separate houses.

It's not the fairytale romance we are used to but research shows more are choosing to live in different houses even though they are either married or in committed long-term relationships.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies report, out today, has as many as 1.1 million people in the nation in Living Apart Together, or LAT, relationships.

Many LAT couples are divorcees with children who remarry, but choose to live apart due to the logistics of creating a stepfamily household.

Relationships Australia chief executive officer Anne Hollonds said living apart could have a positive impact.

"It's the problem of trying to create the Brady Bunch family," she said.

"Life in a stepfamily can be difficult and second and third marriages have a much higher divorce rate. If stress can be relieved by family members having their own space then that can be a good thing."

Ms Hollonds said the high cost of running two households prevented many couples from following the LAT path.

"And some people want the intimacy of sharing the same house," she said.

Another prominent group in the LAT crowd are widowers who repartner but are used to having their own space.

Some are concerned that living with their partner may affect their relationships with their children or grandchildren.

One happily married couple living apart are Sydney author Mandy Sayer and her playwright husband Louis Nowra, who wed in 2003 but still keep separate flats in the same Inner City suburb.

Nowra has said buying and running two flats was a big cost but they are each used to their own space.

"We realise we probably wouldn't be a good fit living together," he has said.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures predict one-person households will make up 28 per cent of residences by 2031 but the AIFS report suggests many of those will be LAT relationships.

Edited

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