In many cases there are bad feelings by one partner toward the other following a separation. Although this is not unusual, sometimes these feelings may result in one partner selling, damaging, or otherwise disposing of the other partner’s property (or relationship property as a whole).

This can come in several forms:

  •           Physically damaging items;
  •           Selling property or giving it away (e.g. on Trademe);
  •           Removing money from bank accounts;
  •           Moving property to where the other partner cannot access it;
  •           Taking property from a shared family home without agreement;
  •           Altering the property in any way that causes a decrease in value to the property.

If you are trying to get use of your property, but your ex-partner has possession of it, an application can be made to the Courts for a property order. If you are successful this will allow you to continue to use specific property in the time between the separation and the division of property. You will need to show good reason  why you need this property to the exclusion of the other person.

In the event that your ex-partner attempts to do any of the things listed above, one course of action to take could be to make a non-urgent call to the police, informing them of the illegal action that your ex-partner is undertaking. It is likely that the police will send a letter to the residence of your ex-partner, informing them of possible consequences that may occur if the conduct continues.

Another course of action is to send a letter setting out the action you will take if the property is not provided, taking steps to freeze bank accounts, and a notice that you intend to take further legal action if they continue to mishandle the relationship property.

In many cases, these two options will be sufficient to prevent any further tampering with the relationship property, as your ex-partner will likely be discouraged by the suggestion of legal consequences. If the other person ignores this letter or letters, a more urgent option of Court proceedings may be warranted.

In the event that tampering continues, an application for an injunction can be made to the District or High Court depending on the value of property or money involved.

An injunction is an order made by the courts to prevent an action from being performed. This method is very serious and will likely require a significant investment. In this case, an injunction would place a legal restraint on your partner from further tampering or beginning to tamper with your relationship property, provided that you meet the following requirements:

  1.     That there is a legal basis for granting an injunction e.g. That relationship property is being tampered with in a way             that decreases its value.
  2.     That granting the injunction creates a more fair outcome than if it wasn’t granted.
  3.     That as the applicant you have signed a document agreeing to compensate the other party if the claim for an                     injunction ultimately fails.

If the Court is satisfied that you meet these requirements, it may grant an injunction to prevent the ex-partner from continuing to tamper with your relationship property (selling property, draining bank accounts, etc).

If your partner continues or begins to tamper with your relationship property after the injunction is in place the Court may hold your ex-partner in breach of the injunction, the penalty for which could be a fine or imprisonment.

If a decrease in value of your relationship property has already occurred because of a deliberate act of your ex-partner, then the Court may order your partner to pay compensation to you. This payment will reflect the value that has been lost as a result of their actions. Alternatively, the court may order a transfer of property from the ex-partner as compensation.

In many cases, the primary cause of tampering with relationship property is a desire to make use of property that the other party has possession of (e.g. The fridge that the couple bought together, but is only being used by one of the people as the other person has moved out).

If this is the case, it may be a good idea to come to an agreement containing details of who has use of what property, between the time of the separation and when the relationship property is divided. This can provide a cost-effective solution to the issue.

If there are concerns that an ex-partner intends to sell property, you should speak with a professional to explore your options. It may be that a simple letter or a call to the police is enough to put a stop to any potential property tampering before it begins.