Is there a legal reason to get married before you buy a house?

My dear friend J recently came to me with a question prompted by an offhand comment by her fella’s dad.

You see, J and her fella are looking at buying their first place, and J’s dad thought that they would be ‘safer’ if they tied the knot beforehand.

Now J is a total keeper and there are a million non-legal reasons why her fella would want to marry her: she’s sweet, smart, cute as a button and throws a wicked party.

But, legally? 

There are a few different issues here.

In terms of house ownership, if they purchase the property as joint tenants (rather than tenants in common), then if either of them die (touch wood), the other would acquire the whole property and mortgage, regardless of whether they were married. 

And if they were to split, being married would not prevent either of them lumping the other with the responsibility of the mortgage.

So no on this front. 

What about in other legal areas?

Well, the two of them have been shacked up since third year uni, that is, have lived together on a genuine domestic basis for more than two years. 

In 2002, approximately 55 pieces of Victorian legislation were amended to treat relationships of this nature as the same as married relationships.  These Acts concerned property, inheritance, stamp duty, compensation schemes, superannuation, health, guardianship, employment, criminal and consumer laws.

Then in 2008, approximately 84 Commonwealth Acts were amended to remove differential treatment of same-sex couples and their children, including in the areas of tax, superannuation, PBS and Medicare safety nets, aged care, veteran's entitlements, immigration, evidence, child support, social security, workers compensation and employment entitlements and family law. 

Several of these Acts may come into play as a result of owning property – for example, property orders were they to split or calculating their respective assets for social security purposes. 

If J ever needed to demonstrate that she was in a domestic relationship for one of these Acts, she may need to produce proof of this.  This would be pretty easy to do in her situation, but if it bothered her, she and her fella could register their relationship on the Victorian Relationship Register and this would act as proof.  If their relationship was more untraditional (for example, if they had spent time apart for significant periods), I would probably advise her to register the relationship to avoid future hassle.  Ditto if she wanted legal recognition for the sake of it but didn’t want to get married.

So, no legal reason to get married on this front either.

I hope they do get married.  It would be a rocking party.  And I know it would be for love, and not some spurious legal reason.  Because for these guys, in 2013, there is none.