If you want to formally dissolve your marriage or civil union you will need to apply for an order from the Family Court.

In order to apply for a dissolution, one or both parties must be ‘domiciled’ in New Zealand.  That means at least one person must consider New Zealand to be their permanent home (even if they are not living in New Zealand).  It is also not necessary for the marriage or civil union to have taken place in New Zealand. 

The spouses or partners can either apply together for an order (a joint application), or one party can apply against the other (separately).  This may be necessary if the other party does not agree, or if the other party cannot be found.  It will still be necessary to serve the other party with a copy of the proceeding documents, so that they can respond if they wish to.  Where a party cannot be located, it may be possible to apply for substituted service (for instance by way of a relative, via social media, or via email).

The only ground upon which you can seek a dissolution is that the marriage or civil union has “broken down irreconcilably”.  To prove this, you must have been living apart for at least two years before filing the application.

The process for getting an order for dissolution depends on various things, including whether the application is filed jointly or separately, whether a party being served with an application is overseas, whether a defence is filed and whether either party wishes to appear in Court (which is not mandatory).

There is a filing fee that usually must be paid with the application, and there may also be some costs involved in serving the other party (for instance if a service agent is used).  The Court will want confirmation that the care arrangements for any minor children of the marriage or civil union have been sorted.

A dissolution order does not decide how the parties will divide their relationship property.  That is a separate matter which should ideally be resolved before applying for a dissolution.  The reason for this is that if the parties cannot reach an agreement on how to divide their property, they may need the Court to assist.  An application for the division of property must be made within the 12 month after an order for dissolution is made.

The Court can allow an application to be filed out of time in limited circumstances, but it is recommended that you get advice on any unresolved relationship property matters sooner rather than later.  The longer parties leave things, usually the more complex they are and require a bigger investment to resolve.

Leading law firms committed to helping clients cost-effectively will have a range of fixed-price Initial Consultations to suit most people’s needs in quickly learning what their options are.  At Rainey Collins we have an experienced team who can answer your questions and put you on the right track.