This project examined New Zealand’s relationship property legislation.
The Property (Relationships) Act 1976 (PRA) set out the rules for how property owned by either or both partners is divided when they separate or when one of them dies. It applied to marriages, civil unions and de facto relationships. The policy of the PRA is the just division of property, and this policy is given effect primarily through the general rule that each partner is entitled to share equally in “relationship property”, subject to limited exceptions.
When first passed, the PRA was seen as a significant and long-awaited step in the development of relationship property law in New Zealand. However, the PRA is now over 40 years old and in that time New Zealand has undergone a period of significant social change.
The Law Commission was asked to review the PRA to determine whether it is still operating appropriately and effectively.
Terms of reference
The Property (Relationships) Act 1976 ("the Act") created a code which governs the division of property held by married couples, civil union couples and couples who have lived in a de facto relationship when they separate or one of them dies.
The Act was amended in 2001 and 2005 to extend its application to civil unions and de facto partnerships but has not been comprehensively reviewed since its inception. Over time the Act affects almost every New Zealander, both adults and children, and as such it should be reviewed to ensure that it is operating appropriately and effectively.
The Law Commission's review of the Act will include (but not be limited to) the following matters:
- The definitions of property, relationship property, and separate property;
- How a de facto relationship is defined for the purposes of the Act;
- Differences in the rules governing de facto relationships and marriages/civil unions;
- Whether the Act gives rise to matters of particular concern to Māori and how these should be addressed;
- How the interests of children are recognised and protected under the Act and in how it is applied;
- How the Act functions in relation to sequential relationships and blended families;
- The ability to make adjustments to take account of economic disparity between spouses and partners, and other departures from equal sharing as contemplated by the Act;
- The operation of Part 5 of the Act concerning relationship property and creditors;
- How the Act deals with property held by a company or trust and the powers of the courts in this area;
- The relationship between and application of the Act and section 182 of the Family Proceedings Act 1980;
- The provisions relating to contracting out and settlement agreements;
- The provisions relating to division of property on death;
- The requirements for disclosure of information in relationship property matters and the consequences for failing to disclose;
- The jurisdiction of the courts over relationship property matters and the range of orders the courts can make;
- Whether the Act adequately deals with cross-border issues;
- Whether the Act facilitates the resolution of relationship property matters in accordance with the reasonable expectations of the parties.
The Law Commission will consult with experts, stakeholders, and the general public.
Relationships and families in contemporary New Zealand – He hononga tangata, he hononga whānau i Aotearoa o nāianei (NZLC SP22, 2017)
The Law Commission published this Study Paper alongside our Issues Paper, Dividing Relationship Property – Time for Change? Te mātatoha rawa tokorau – Kua eke te wā? (NZLC IP41, 2017). Social legislation such as the Property (Relationships) Act (PRA) cannot be reviewed without understanding its context.
This Study Paper described the significant demographic changes that have taken place in New Zealand since the PRA was first passed in 1976 and explored changing patterns of partnering, family formation, separation and re-partnering.
Dividing Relationship Property – Time for Change? Te mātatoha rawa tokorau – Kua eke te wā? (NZLC IP41, 2017)
In this Issues Paper, the Commission asked whether the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 (PRA) was still achieving a just division of property at the end of a relationship 40 years after the PRA was passed.
The Issues Paper was divided into 13 parts and sought feedback on a wide range of issues.
The Commission also prepared a Consultation Paper, which summarised the key issues identified in the Issues Paper.
Review of the Property (Relationships) Act 1976: Preferred Approach - Te Arotake i te Property (Relationships) Act 1976: He Aronga i Mariu ai (NZLC IP44, 2018)
In this Preferred Approach Paper, we concluded that reform is required to ensure that the law meets most New Zealanders' expectations of fairness when a relationship ends. We presented a package of key reforms that we proposed to recommend to the Government subject to any feedback received. These proposals were informed by the extensive feedback we received during consultation on the Issues Paper, Dividing Relationship Property – Time for Change? Te mātatoha rawa tokorau – Kua eke te wā? (NZLC IP14, 2017). We also had the benefit of the results of a survey of public attitudes and values on relationship property division.
 I Binnie and others Relationship Property Division in New Zealand: Public Attitudes and Values – A general population survey (Michael and Suzanne Borrin Foundation, Technical research report, October 2018).
The Law Commission invited members of the public to share their views during its review of the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 in relation to:
- the matters discussed in its Issues Paper IP41 and consultation website published in October 2017, and
- the matters discussed in its Preferred Approach Paper IP44 published in November 2018.
The submissions received were invaluable as we considered the issues and formulated our recommendations for reform. We refer to the submissions throughout our final Report R143.
The Commission received over 400 submissions from individuals and organisations.
For administrative reasons and to protect the privacy of individuals, each submission has been assigned a number. In most cases submissions from individuals have been redacted to remove personal information so that the individuals cannot be identified. Nine submissions which are entirely personal information have not been published.