Hollywood glitz and glamour is often portrayed by the media as the norm.  In much the same way, what we see on the big screen and what we hear on the news inevitably has some impact on how we perceive the law. 

Readers may recall that one of the hot topics for the gossip mags this year was the divorce of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.

According to the tabloids, after just two weeks, and despite a pre-nuptial agreement, TomKat reached a multi-million dollar divorce settlement.  Without commenting on American law, the process for separation in New Zealand generally plays out much differently. 

If your relationship comes to an end, some key things that you should keep in mind include:

1.       Divorce.

A marriage (or civil union) can only be dissolved two years following the end date of the relationship.  The period of two years is usually calculated from the date at which the couple began to live apart. In limited circumstances it is possible to “live apart” in the same dwelling.

2.       Relationship property entitlements.

The starting point under our law is that after a relationship of certain status and length has come to an end, both the parties to that relationship are entitled to half of all ‘relationship property’. 

Relationship property generally comprises the property which accumulated over the course of the relationship, but may also include other property brought into the relationship by one of the parties.  The “family home”, whenever acquired, will be relationship property.

3.       Time limit to make a claim.

After a relationship comes to an end there are certain time periods in which one party can make a claim for his or her entitlement to relationship property against the other.  Claims can be made through the Family Court, or the parties can agree to settle.  Legal involvement will always be required if the parties wish to enter into a binding agreement outside of the court process.  This is because there are formal requirements for such agreements in respect of relationship property.  One of those is independent legal advice.

4.       Agreements.

Contracting out agreements (also known as “pre-nups”) can be entered into at any point during a relationship, and provide both parties with certainty in regards to what will happen with their property if the relationship ends.

Settlement agreements can be entered into at any point following the ending of the relationship.  A well-drafted settlement agreement will protect your assets against any later claims made against them by your ex-partner. 

Both types of agreement have formal requirements as above.

5.       Other obligations.

Under our law, one party may be required to pay the other for expenses such as child support and spousal maintenance.  These are things which generally cannot be contracted out of.  Many of these entitlements can continue to be claimed long after the end of the relationship.

6.       Time to settle.

In most cases, even where a contracting out agreement is in place, settlement will take a lot longer than two weeks.  Our experience is that you should allow an average three to six months from the date of separation – even where you might consider your settlement “a simple matter”.

The most important thing when a relationship comes to an end is certainty going forward.  Both parties will want to get back on their feet.  Sadly, one or both parties may try to prevent the other from doing so …

The key thing is to come to a legally-recognised agreement that determines with absolute certainty that the relationship has come to an end, and that all property attributable to that relationship has been divided in a way that is just and equal in the circumstances of that relationship.  The cornerstone to reaching such an agreement is adherence to mandatory formal requirements.

If you have any questions, or if you require any assistance in any relationship property matter please feel free to give us a call on 04 4736 850

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.