Distributing property when a relationship ends

Publication Date 
01 March 2017

In 1976, when the Matrimonial Property Act 1976 became law, only one in five babies had unmarried parents. Today half of the babies born in New Zealand have parents who are not married.

Law Commissioner Helen McQueen points out that the world has changed dramatically in the four decades since Parliament introduced this law, including the ways relationships and families form and function.

Against this backdrop of change the Commission is looking at what is now known as the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 to see if it still meets the needs of our diverse, modern families, in terms of determining how property should be divided at the end of a relationship.

"One example," says Helen McQueen, "is that these days many relationships are de facto relationships, rather than marriages. Yet there is confusion about what a de facto relationship is. Sometimes people drift into a de facto relationship without even realising it."

And being in a de facto relationship can then have significant consequences for how courts divide the property after a relationship ends.  There have been some difficult court cases trying to resolve the question of whether people are in a relationship or not. 

Helen McQueen says this law affects nearly all New Zealanders over time

"We are hoping that many New Zealanders will have their say about how the law should treat property after a relationship ends. Issues papers for people to read and give us feedback on should be out in October this year," says Helen McQueen.