People separating from de facto relationships - including same sex partners - will be treated the same way by the court system as legally married couples getting divorced, under new laws to be finalised in Parliament this week.
The historic legislation means that de facto couples will have access to the federal family law courts to solve property disputes and maintenance issues.
Only divorcing couples now have access to family courts for property, maintenance and custody disputes. People in de facto relationships have to juggle disputes across different jurisdictions, with custody issues settled in the federal family courts and property and other issues settled by state and territory courts.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland said the reforms, which will pass through the House of Representatives this week, were long overdue.
"They will end current arrangements which place a huge administrative and financial burden on separating de facto couples." Mr McClelland said.
"Consistent with the Government's policy, the legislation will not discriminate between opposite-sex and same-sex de facto couples.
These changes do not refer to parenting issues, because Australian family law on parenting matters already covered unmarried parents. All the child-related provisions in the Family Law Act including parenting responsibilities and the rights, development and welfare of children, applies to children equally from both marriage and de facto relationships. The de facto property amendment was a fundamental change in Australian family law as it erased discrimination between married and de facto couples, and between heterosexual and same-sex couples.
It is now much cheaper and a more convenient way to settle issues. Before these changes, de facto couples who wished to separate needed to initiate a case in the Commonwealth court in order to solve any parenting disputes, and then an additional case in their State court if there were maintenance or property issues. Now it is possible for all matters to be resolved under the roof of one court.