There are a number of misconceptions that people hold about the division of property at the end of a relationship. One of the common misunderstandings is when the Property (Relationships) Act kicks in and says that relationship property shall be divided equally.

In general, this occurs after the parties have been in a qualifying relationship (being de facto partners, spouses, civil union partners or a combination of these) for three years or more.

However, these are also specific rules under the Act for relationships shorter than three years. Also, different rules apply to marriages and civil unions of short duration than for de facto relationships of short duration.

Marriages and civil unions of short duration

Under the property division rules, the home or chattels (vehicles, furniture, pets etc) do not need to be divided equally where:

  • They were owned by one party before the marriage or civil union; or
  • They were acquired after the marriage or civil union by succession, through survivorship, or as a beneficiary under a trust or as a gift from a third party; or
  • One spouse has made a disproportionately greater contribution to the marriage or civil union.

In this situation, the home or chattels shall be divided in accordance with the contribution of each party to the marriage or civil union (not just according to contributions to the property itself).

All other relationship property will be divided equally, unless one party can show that his or her contribution to the marriage or civil union was clearly greater than that of the other party. In that situation, the remaining relationship property pool will be divided in accordance with the contribution of each party to the marriage or civil union.

De facto relationships of short duration

The general philosophy behind the relationship property laws is to exclude de facto relationships of less than three years from the property sharing scheme on the basis that “fleeting relationships” should not be bound by a regime.

However, the property division rules can apply to couples where there is a child of the de facto relationship, or where one party has made a substantial contribution to the relationship, and serious injustice would result if the Court was unable to make an order in respect of the couple’s property.

In this situation, each party’s share in the property would be determined in accordance with the contribution each has made to the de facto relationship. 

It is important to understand what your rights are under the property sharing laws so that you can ensure you are receiving your full entitlement at the end of a relationship.

Mikayla Turner

Family Lawyer
Wellington