When it comes to dividing relationship property, short duration relationships are not treated in the same way as qualifying de facto relationships, marriages or civil unions. Rather than applying the presumption of equal division, relationship property will typically be divided on a contribution basis.

What is a relationship of short duration?

A relationship of short duration is a marriage, civil union or de facto relationship where the spouses or partners have lived together in the relationship for less than three years.

In some circumstances, however, the Court may consider it to be just to treat a qualifying relationship of three years or more as a relationship of short duration.  This is something that will have to be considered and determined on a case by cases basis.

How is relationship property divided after a relationship of short duration ends?

There are slightly different rules for marriages and civil unions in comparison to de facto relationships.  Each set of rules is explained below in more detail.

Marriages and civil unions of short duration:

If the parties in marriages and civil unions of a short duration separate or divorce, they will usually each retain their separate property as their own.

Relationship property will be divided in shares equal to each party’s contribution, as follows:

The family home, the proceeds of the sale of a family home, homesteads and family chattels:

If the following applies, the property described above will be divided so that each partner will receive back the share they have put in:

  • the property was owned by one partner before they entered the relationship; or
  • the property has been acquired as a gift, inheritance, distribution of money or assets from a trust, or by way of survivorship, or succession during the relationship; or
  • one partner contributed significantly more towards the acquisition.

If the abovementioned conditions are not applicable, the presumption of equal division will continue to apply.

Other relationship property:

All other relationship property will be divided according to the presumption of equal division, unless one of the parties has contributed significantly more towards the purchase of property.  In that case, each party will receive back the share they contributed. 

De facto relationships of short duration:

If the parties in de facto relationship of a short duration separate, they will usually each retain their separate property as their own.

The Court cannot make orders to divide relationship property if there was a de facto relationships of a short duration, unless the Court considers that not making an order will result in serious injustice, and:

  • there is a child of the de facto relationship; or
  • one partner made a significant or substantial contribution to the de facto relationship.

In this situation, the relationship property will be divided by the Court in accordance with each partner’s individual contributions to the de facto relationship.  In other words, each partner will receive back what they put in. 

How is property divided in reality?

In most cases, parties are able to reach an agreement on how they wish to divide their property, after receiving advice from a lawyer.  An agreement can be signed between the parties, to give them certainty and finality about their financial positions.  There are strict legal requirements that need to be followed, before an agreement is binding and enforceable.

If the parties cannot reach an agreement, they may be able to apply to the Court to determine how property should be divided.

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 of family law specialists who can answer your questions and put you on the right track.

Please note that Rainey Collins is not contracted to provide Legal Aid, other than in the Treaty of Waitangi area.  We therefore are unable to take on any Civil or Family Legal Aid work. If you require Legal Aid in those areas, you can search the list of Legal Aid lawyers on the Ministry of Justice website.