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Understanding Legal Endings of Relationships and Death Benefits
09 Jul 2024

Comprehending the Official Termination of Relationships and Its Effect on Death Benefits

By Family Lawyers Mackay, 09 Jul 2024
Family Law

Determining the official end of a relationship is crucial in legal contexts, especially for the distribution of death benefits. Two cases, Fairbairn v Radecki [2022] HCA 18 and Corbisieri v NM Superannuation Proprietary Limited [2023] FCA 1319, highlight the complexities and implications surrounding this determination.

Fairbairn v Radecki [2022] HCA 18

Case Summary

In Fairbairn v Radecki, the High Court of Australia was tasked with determining whether a de facto relationship had officially ended. The appellant and respondent had been in a de facto relationship since late 2005 or early 2006. Due to the appellant’s cognitive decline and subsequent dementia, she was moved to an aged care facility in March 2018. The NSW Trustee and Guardian sought family law property settlement orders, claiming the relationship had ended by 25 May 2018.

The primary judge found the respondent’s conduct inconsistent with the relationship’s fundamental premise, such as attempts to update the appellant’s will in his favour and resisting the sale of her home to cover care costs. These actions indicated the end of the de facto relationship.

Legal Implications

The court emphasised that determining the end of a de facto relationship relies on an objective assessment of the circumstances, not just the parties’ subjective intentions. This case shows that the relationship’s end can be inferred from actions and behaviours that indicate a cessation of shared life goals and mutual commitment.

Corbisieri v NM Superannuation Proprietary Limited [2023] FCA 1319

Case Summary

In this case, the issue was whether a text message sent by Mr. Corbisiero to his sister shortly before his death was sufficient to end his de facto relationship with Mr. Nguyen. The trustee of Mr. Corbisiero’s superannuation fund had to decide on the distribution of death benefits, which hinged on whether the relationship had ended before his death.

Mr. Nguyen lodged a claim for the death benefits. Still, the trustee initially decided to distribute the benefits primarily to Mr. Corbisiero’s estate, citing the text message as evidence of the relationship’s termination. The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) and, eventually, the Federal Court were involved.

Legal Implications

This case highlights the challenges of determining the validity and effect of informal communications (like a text message) in legally ending a relationship. The trustee’s decision to consider the text message as a terminating act shows how interpreting such communications can significantly impact the distribution of death benefits. This case underscores the need for clear and definitive actions or documentation to end relationships to avoid disputes over benefits officially.


By consulting one of our accredited family law mackay specialists.


Both cases demonstrate the complexities of determining when a relationship has officially ended. The official end of a relationship often requires more than a verbal declaration; it typically necessitates clear, consistent actions that signal the termination of mutual commitments and shared life.

The impact on death benefits is profound. In the absence of clear evidence of relationship termination, disputes can arise, leading to prolonged legal battles and potential financial hardship for the surviving parties. These cases underscore the importance of clear legal frameworks and documentation in managing the end of relationships, particularly in the context of superannuation and death benefits. They span family and relationship law and estate planning and administration.

How Family Lawyers Mackay Can Help

Navigating the legal complexities of ending a relationship and managing the distribution of superannuation death benefits can be challenging. Family Lawyers Mackay specialise in family law and can provide comprehensive assistance. Here’s how we can help:

  • Legal Advice: We offer expert legal advice to help you understand your rights and obligations when ending a relationship, ensuring that all necessary steps are taken to protect your interests.
  • Documentation: Our team can assist in preparing and updating legal documents, such as wills and property agreements, to reflect a relationship’s termination and prevent future disputes.
  • Mediation and Negotiation: We provide mediation and negotiation services to help resolve conflicts amicably and reach fair settlements, reducing the emotional and financial strain on all parties involved.
  • Representation in Court: If disputes arise that require legal intervention, our experienced solicitors can represent you in court, advocating for your rights and ensuring a fair outcome.
  • Superannuation and Death Benefits: We guide you through the complex process of managing superannuation and death benefits, ensuring they are distributed according to legal requirements and your wishes.

By working with Family Lawyers Mackay, you can navigate the legal intricacies with confidence and ensure that your rights and interests are fully protected.


By consulting one of our accredited family law mackay specialists.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1: What constitutes the official ending of a relationship in legal terms?

The official ending of a relationship can be determined by consistent actions and conduct that indicate the cessation of mutual commitments and shared life goals. This can include living separately, financial independence, and clear declarations of the end of the relationship.

Q2: How can the ending of a relationship impact death benefits?

The distribution of superannuation death benefits often depends on the status of a relationship at the time of death. If a relationship is deemed to have ended, the surviving party may not be entitled to benefits. Disputes can arise if there is no clear evidence of the relationship’s termination.

Q3: Can informal communications like text messages legally end a relationship?

Informal communications can be considered as evidence of the intention to end a relationship, but they may not be sufficient. Courts typically look for consistent actions and behaviors that align with the declaration of the relationship’s end.

Q4: What should individuals do to ensure a clear termination of a relationship?

Individuals should take definitive actions such as updating legal documents, notifying relevant institutions, and maintaining consistent behavior that supports the termination of the relationship. Consulting with legal professionals can also provide clarity and ensure proper documentation.

Q5: Why is it important to clearly define the end of a relationship in legal terms?

Clearly defining the end of a relationship helps prevent disputes over entitlements, such as superannuation death benefits and family law property settlements. It ensures that the parties’ intentions are respected and upheld in legal contexts.

By understanding and addressing the complexities involved in the official ending of relationships, individuals can better navigate the legal implications and protect their rights and wishes.

Source: Official Ending of Relationships & Death Benefits.

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