Life's challenges

I’m in a de facto relationship and we’ve separated. Is my... I’m in a de facto relationship and we’ve separated. Is my property affected?
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Life's Challenges

The following advice is of a general nature only and intended as a broad guide. The advice should not be regarded as legal, financial or real estate advice. You should make your own inquiries and obtain independent professional advice tailored to your specific circumstances before making any legal, financial or real estate decisions. Click here for full Terms of Use.

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We’re separating. What will happen to our family home and other assets?

In New Zealand, the Relationship Act covers how the family home and other assets will be divided when people get divorced or end a serious relationship. If your relationship qualifies (see the Ministry of Justice website for details), your family home will likely be treated as “relationship property”.

If you and your partner can’t decide on how to divide your assets, the Family Court will make a ruling. The Family Court will typically rule that all “relationship property” be split equally.  There can be exceptions to this, where an equal split would be unjust or where one of the partners would be seriously disadvantaged.

You should consult a lawyer for more advice about your specific circumstances. 

Does divorce resolve property matters?

No it doesn't. A divorce is simply the legal process used to dissolve a marriage. The divorce itself does not address any family or custody issues, or consider how family assets (including property) should be split.
Many partners work out property and custody agreements between themselves, without legal conveyancing. This approach can save time and legal costs, and avoid lengthy court disputes which may be harmful for children.  Where agreements cannot be satisfactorily made, lawyers may be engaged.
Legal cases are normally heard by the Family Court.

I’m in a de facto relationship and we’ve separated. Is my property affected?

Under the Relationship Act, if you've been living in a relationship similar to marriage for at least 3 years (e.g. living together in the same property, with joint finances), then your property will normally be treated in the same way as property from an official marriage. 
The relationship period considered may be shorter than 3 years if you have a child together, or if one partner has made significant financial contributions to the relationship (such as buying a house) and would be disadvantaged by an equal split. 

What sort of process is followed in a property settlement following a divorce or separation?

Dividing property or other assets following a divorce or separation can be achieved by a four step process with the Family Court.  The steps are as follows:
  • Application for Settlement: An application is made to the Family Court for a Property Division Settlement. You will be required to file information about the relationship, including the length of time you have been together, and your reasons for separation or divorce.  Your application should also include a proposal for dividing the property and other assets held (e.g. family home, other property, savings, superannuation, shares and investments).  Your personal debt and liabilities details will be requested, to assess your individual financial situation.
  • Judicial Conference: The Judge will call a meeting to discuss how the case will proceed, and to determine what items the partners already agree on.
  • Settlement Conference: The Judge will hold a conference to see if the partners can agree together on how best to divide their property. Lawyers for both sides are able to participate in this if desired.
  • Hearing: If the partners can’t agree, the Judge will hold a hearing and make a legal ruling as to how the property will be divided.

Is there a time limit on applying for a property division settlement?

In New Zealand, an application for property settlement must be made within 12 months of a divorce or the dissolution of a civil union.  For de facto relationships, the application must be made within a 3 year period from separation.

​Where can I get help?

At First National Real Estate, we're here to help you. Contact a First National Real Estate agent prior to moving into their area, and get chatting. They are well placed to give you general information and advice about your upcoming move.   They can also add you to our database of potential property buyers or renters, and can send you updates when properties that suit your needs and preferences become available.

What counts as relationship property?

The Relationship Act defines relationship property to include:
  • The family home.
  • Any household furniture and fittings, regardless of when they were purchased.
  • Any jointly owned property, or property purchased by a partner before the relationship began that has been in common (joint) usage.
  • Most property acquired after the relationship began (with some exceptions).
  • Financial assets such as shares, cash or other investments, that have been created (or contributed to) during the relationship.
  • Insurance policies related to any of the relationship property described above.