Background

The 40-year-old Property (Relationships) Act 1976 governing how a couple’s property is to be divided when their relationship ends is currently under review.

The Law Commission has released a media statement that it will launch a consultation paper today on 16 October 2017 asking New Zealanders how the law could be better. The Consultation Paper is Relationship Property: Time for Change? – Te mātatoha rawa tokorau – Kua eke te wā? Click here to see the Law Commission statement.

Commissioner Helen McQueen said that Dividing property when a relationship ends can be challenging…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? (Section 15)
  • 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 with its final report due in November 2018.

Comments

We think this is a step in the right direction as relationships and families in New Zealand has changed a lot in the last forty years and it is time that the law reflects this change.  This is especially relevant due to the increasing complexity of property ownership as well as the changes surrounding the way people start and end relationships, and subsequently re-partner.

Regarding the areas of reform, we are interested in the questions of what should happen when trusts are used to hold property and how the law should change to meet the interests of children.

With regard to the area of trusts, we often see confusion surrounding the application of the current legislation on trust property and interests.  This is especially interesting as the new Trusts Bill introduced on 1 August 2017 has had its first reading in Parliament. The new Bill will update Trusts Law for the first time in 60 years and replace the Trustee Act 1956 and the Perpetuities Act 1964.

The Consultation Paper, summary document and the online consultation platform has not been released yet so for now it’s “watch this space”.  I will post a link to all once it has been updated.