22.214.171.124 Determining member of a couple relationships
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- Circumstances to be considered when determining member of a couple relationships
- Family and/or domestic violence
- Determining living separately and apart on a permanent or indefinite basis
- Financial aspects of the relationship
- Nature of the household
- Social aspects of the relationship
- Any sexual relationship
- Nature of the commitment
For the purposes of social security law, a person who is a member of a couple (1.1.M.120) is paid at the partnered rate and has the partner income and asset test applied.
Where a decision maker must form an opinion about the relationship between 2 people to establish if they are members of a couple or not, they must have regard to all the circumstances of the relationship. No circumstance or factor by itself is conclusive, nor do all 5 factors need to be present. A determination must be made on the balance of all evidence before the decision maker and indicators that support a member of a couple finding would outweigh indicators that do not support it.
A member of a couple opinion must not be made if the 2 people are living separately and apart on a permanent or indefinite basis (126.96.36.199).
In some situations where circumstances exist to indicate that a person is a member of a couple, there may be a special reason to treat the person as not being a member of couple (188.8.131.52).
Act reference: SSAct section 4(2) Member of a couple—general, section 4(3) Member of a couple—criteria for forming opinion about relationship, section 4(3A) The Secretary must not form the opinion ….
Policy reference: SS Guide 1.1.M.120 Member of a couple, 184.108.40.206 Types of member of a couple relationships, 220.127.116.11 Discretion to treat a person as not being a member of a couple for a special reason - section 24
Circumstances to be considered when determining member of a couple relationships
While social security law requires regard to all circumstances of the relationship in member of couple of determinations, particular regard must be given to the following 5 factors:
- financial aspects of the relationship
- nature of the household
- social aspects of the relationship
- any sexual relationship, and
- nature of the commitment.
Some of the 5 factors may be present in relationships that are primarily for companionship and/or caring/support reasons, such as where 2 people share a home and living costs, or attend social events together. The decision maker should not form the opinion that a member of a couple relationship exists where the nature of the relationship is indicative of this kind of companionship/care.
Note: A person who provides personal care and support to another person for payment or reward, on behalf of another person, organisation or a government, such as live-in nurses, are considered 'care' relationships and as such are excluded from the definition for a member of a couple relationship.
Different groups in society may have different views about what constitutes a member of a couple relationship. This may affect how the individual views their relationship, and subsequently how they present themselves to society or to Centrelink. This may also be true for a person who is subject to family and/or domestic violence, where duress or coercion has influenced whether a person has or had not previously disclosed they were in a relationship. Each case must be considered on its own merits and not just the opinions held by the 2 possible members of a couple.
Each case must take into consideration a person’s particular situation, including but not limited to:
- the impact of family and/or domestic violence
- a person’s sexual orientation – particularly where it has not been disclosed to others
- a person’s cultural background
- a person’s ethnicity, or
- a person’s religious beliefs.
- A person who comes from a culture which does not accept divorced women may remain living with their former partner and present as a couple to stay connected to their community.
- A person who is being abused may be coerced into not disclosing their relationship to Centrelink, or presenting to society as a member of a couple when they are not.
- A person whose religious beliefs may cause them to hide their relationship with a same sex person.
Act reference: SSAct section 4(3) Member of a couple—criteria for forming opinion about relationship
Family and/or domestic violence
The presence of family and/or domestic violence, may indicate that a person is not a member of a couple and needs to be considered when assessing each of the 5 factors. Evidence may be required to support the presence of the family and/or domestic violence.
Family and domestic violence includes, but is not limited to physical, sexual, financial, emotional and psychological abuse. All types of family and domestic violence should be considered, together with the 5 factors.
The types of family and domestic violence is further explained in topic 1.1.D.235.
Policy reference: SS Guide 1.1.D.235 Domestic & family violence
Determining living separately & apart on a permanent or indefinite basis
A person is considered living separately and apart on permanent or indefinite basis when they are no longer a member of a couple because the relationship has broken down and there is a level of physical and/or emotional estrangement, resulting in one or more parties having no intention to reconcile. An emotional estrangement can occur independently of whether the parties live in the same house or not (18.104.22.168).
The decision maker must establish if a breakdown in the relationship has led to an estrangement between the 2 people and if the separation is on a temporary, indefinite or permanent basis.
A temporary separation does not mean a person is no longer a member of a couple. Couples may be temporarily separated due to work, holidays or while attempting to reconcile their relationship, etc.
Note: The meaning of a ‘temporarily separated couple’ (1.1.T.47) for the purposes of social security is different from the ‘temporary separation’ described above.
If one member of a couple has entered into a care situation, such as a residential aged care facility, on a permanent or indefinite basis, consideration should be given to whether there has been a breakdown in the relationship and the couple are no longer committed to one another, or if the illness separated couple rules apply. Generally, couples who are living apart due to illness would be assessed under illness separated provisions (22.214.171.124).
Act reference: SSAct section 4(2) Member of a couple—general, section 4(3A) The Secretary must not form the opinion ….
Financial aspects of the relationship
While financial interdependence may be indicative of a member of a couple relationship, due to the prevalence of couples maintaining separate finances a lack of financial interdependence does not necessarily mean a person is not a member of a couple.
Financial aspects to consider include:
- pooling of financial resources towards a common goal for example, purchasing an asset
- sharing of personal day to day household expenses like food, recreation, clothing or medical
- shared major financial commitments such as joint ownership and/or liabilities of real estate, assets or credit cards, and
- one party financially providing for the other, including covering day-to-day expenses (for example, groceries, utility bills) and larger expenses (for example, car registration, insurances, holidays).
The presence of financial abuse may indicate a person is not a member of a couple. A person experiencing financial abuse may be subject to coercion and threats, which has led to their existing financial arrangements.
Financial abuse may include:
- the withholding or control of funds
- accessing and use of a person’s money without their permission or in a way that limits the person from being able to pay for essential items, and
- restricting a person from working, forcing them to rely on the other person.
Act reference: SSAct section 4(3)(a) the financial aspects of the relationship …
Nature of the household
Although members of a couple do not necessarily need to be living together, separate living arrangements may indicate a relationship breakdown.
Regard should be given to any joint responsibility for providing care or support of children, the living arrangements within the household, and the basis on which responsibility for domestic chores such as housework, gardening, and cooking, is distributed.
With emphasis on shared parenting of children, a person and their former-partner may jointly share parenting without being a member of a couple. They may spend time caring for their children in their former partner’s home or they may remain living separated under one roof in order to co-parent. The decision maker needs to establish if a breakdown in the relationship has led to an estrangement between the 2 people to determine if a member of a couple relationship exists.
Due to the presence of family and/or domestic violence, the nature of the household may present in a way that does not reflect the realities of the relationship and needs to be considered in the overall assessment.
Act reference: SSAct section 4(3)(b) the nature of the household …
Social aspects of the relationship
The social aspects of a relationship take into account how both parties present themselves to society and how others view them in society, that is, as a couple or as friends. It also takes into account whether they plan and engage in social activities together, including holidays.
Family and/or domestic violence may lead a person to falsely present themselves as a member of a couple to family and friends. Therefore, merely presenting in public as a couple is not necessarily indicative 2 people are members of a couple.
Act reference: SSAct section 4(3)(c) the social aspects of the relationship …
Any sexual relationship
The presence of an ongoing and exclusive sexual relationship may be indicative that there is a level of emotional support and commitment between 2 people, reflecting that of a member of a couple. Some members of a couple may have a non exclusive sexual relationship, but remain committed to the relationship, while other members of a couple may not have any sexual relationship. The existence or non-existence of a sexual relationship, by itself, does not prove 2 people are member of a couple or not, and should always be considered in conjunction with all other factors.
Inquiry into the existence of sexual relationship should be restricted to establishing whether there has been such a relationship between the 2 people and if its existence establishes a degree of commitment between them, such as an ongoing relationship or mutual child/ren.
As the nature of a person’s sexual relationship may be a sensitive subject, care should be exercised with inquiries into its existence, considering the person’s particular circumstances, such as:
- non-disclosed sexual orientation
- cultural or religious beliefs, and
- the presence of family and/or domestic violence.
A coercive or non-consensual sexual relationship may be regarded as family and/or domestic violence and indicate a member of a couple relationship does not exist.
Act reference: SSAct section 4(3)(d) any sexual relationship between the people
Nature of commitment
The decision maker should determine if there is a commitment and emotional attachment to each other different to that of relationships with close relatives, friends or co-tenants.
The presence of family and/or domestic violence may indicate there is no genuine commitment in the relationship and that the person is not a member of a couple. In cases where the person presents themselves as a member couple, consideration should be a given to whether this is a result of coercion and threatening behaviour.
Act reference: SSAct section 4(3)(e) the nature of the people’s commitment …