Improving the law for dividing property when relationships end

Publication Date 
09 October 2017


When should the law treat two people as a couple? What property should they share if they break up and what property should belong to only one of them?

The Law Commission is reviewing the 40-year-old Property (Relationships) Act, which sets the rules for how to divide a couple’s property at the end of a relationship.

In the last forty years, New Zealand has changed a lot. This includes the way relationships and families form, how they function and what happens when relationships end.

On 16 October the Law Commission will launch a paper asking New Zealanders how the law could be better: Dividing Relationship Property: Time for Change? Te mātatoha rawa tokorau – Kua eke te wā?

Details of the launch and media conference are:

  • Monday, 16 October 2017
  • 10am
  • Law Commission Boardroom
  • Level 19 ANZ Centre
  • 171 Featherston St, Wellington

"Dividing property when a relationship ends can be challenging," says Commissioner Helen McQueen. "The law needs to help people resolve their relationship property matters in a just and efficient way."

Some of the questions the Commission is asking are:

  • Does the law apply to the right relationships?
  • Is the right property being shared?
  • What should happen when trusts are used to hold property?
  • What should happen if one person is financially worse-off after their relationship ends?
  • Is tikanga Māori recognised?
  • How should the law meet the interests of children?
  • How can the law be inexpensive and simple to apply while still being just?
  • Should the same law that applies when a couple separates also apply when one partner dies?

The Commission will consult with the public until February 2018. Its final report is due in November 2018.

"The Property (Relationships) Act 1976 affects nearly every New Zealander, either directly or indirectly. It’s important that everyone has a say," says McQueen.

The Commission will also launch a consultation website on 16 October:

It will also hold public meetings where people can share their stories. Details of the meetings are on the Commission’s website.