Relationship property law isn't a topic many people like to think about. It's usually concerned with addressing things that arise in a difficult and emotionally-charged time: the break-up of a relationship.
None of us hope we're ever put in that situation. But it does happen. And preparing things earlier in a relationship - or getting supportive help and advice if it does happen - can reduce a lot of stress and uncertainty.
And this isn't just relevant only if you're getting married. Relationship property law also applies to those living with partners in de facto relationships for more than three years.
Whether you're moving in with your partner, getting married, or ending a relationship, we're here to help.
We can guide you through prenuptial agreements, division of relationship property, care arrangements for children, and anything else you might need - all with sensitivity and the benefit of experience.
What is relationship property?
Relationship property refers to property acquired during a relationship. In New Zealand, when a relationship ends (either through separation or death), all relationship property is generally divided equally.
The area is covered by Property (Relationships) Act 1976, which applies to all married, civil union and de facto couples. The Act defines relationship property as:
- the family home (even if acquired before the relationship began)
- family chattels
- common or jointly-owned property
- property acquired before the relationship began if it was intended as for the couple's common use or benefit
- income earned and property bought after the relationship began
- value added during the relationship to superannuation and life insurance policies.
Although relationship property is generally divided equally, there are some exceptions to this. And it's here where you need particular guidance to make sure you get a fair deal.
Prenuptial agreements: when you feel the default position isn't right for you
The Act allows couples to create their own agreement about what should happen to their relationship property. This is commonly known as a prenuptial agreement.
In a prenuptial agreement, a couple can set out what property is to be relationship property and what is to be separate property. They can also define the share of relationship property each of them is entitled to. For example, a house might still be relationship property, but be divided in shares other than 50-50.
A prenuptial agreement is also really helpful to figure out what might be done with difficult-to-split relationship property. For example, the family pet is considered relationship property under the Act - and splitting Fido just isn't as simple as other property!
There are a few requirements for ensuring a prenuptial agreement is valid.
- It must be in writing and signed by both parties.
- Both parties must have independent legal advice before they sign.
- Each signature must be witnessed by a lawyer.
- The lawyer witnessing must explain the effect and implications of the agreement.
So it really helps to get a lawyer involved at the earliest stage to ensure your agreement is right for you, and right by the law.
It's also important to review agreements from time-to-time to make sure they still represent a fair deal. Circumstances change, and an agreement can be set aside if the Court thinks they present "serious injustice" to either party.
We've helped many couples create, review and update prenuptial agreements to reflect their unique relationship. We can help you do the same.
Relationship property settlement agreements
If a relationship ends, each party should get independent legal advice about their position. In many cases, it's just a matter of looking to the Act and any prenuptial agreement, coming to an agreement, putting it in writing, and signing. We can offer you that advice and help.
But sometimes, it's not so easy to agree on a fair division of property. In that case, we can work with you to reach a fair outcome, while keeping stress to a minimum.