Do the New Zealand Courts have jurisdiction with deal with overseas property in a relationship property case?

Law

The majority of the law governing relationships, including marriage, civil unions and de facto relationships, is contained in the Property (Relationships) Act (“the Act”)

Within the Act, overseas assets are classified as either “movable” or “immovable” property.  Examples of movable property include:

  • superannuation
  • vehicles
  • bank accounts

Immovable property includes assets such as:

  • land (with or without a building)
  • fixtures
  • leasehold interests in land

The general rule is that the Courts do not have jurisdiction to deal with immovable property (such as land) that is not in New Zealand.  The exception is where the couple agrees in writing that New Zealand law should apply.  Such an agreement must comply with the rules and formalities of the other country’s laws.  In respect of movable property such as vehicles and bank accounts, provided one partner resides predominantly in that country, New Zealand courts can make orders regarding the division of the movable property.

Example

John acquired two apartments in June 2015.  One apartment is located in New Zealand and the other apartment is located in London. Jane and John were married in July 2015 and separated in August 2017.  Jane argues that during the marriage she made non-financial contributions to both apartments by working on the renovations.  Jane argues that there are grounds for the New Zealand Court to make an order to divide both apartments between the parties.  There is no pre-nuptial agreement in place between the parties in respect of relationship property. 

Answer  

The New Zealand Courts have jurisdiction to consider her claims and make appropriate orders in respect of the New Zealand apartment but not the London apartment.   

Conclusion

Relationship disputes involving land overseas must be dealt with by the local laws unless the parties agreed otherwise.  If you have any questions in respect of the division of overseas assets, please contact your lawyer.