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Big News: Margaret Wilson Heaps Big Legislator

Big News with Dave Crampton

Margaret Wilson: Legislator Of Property, Prosperity And Penal Rates

If you are in a de facto relationship, you may as well be married when it comes to sorting out your possessions should you split up after living together for three years. The Property (Relationships) Act came into force on February 1 compliments of Associate Justice Minister Margaret Wilson. It’s a law that Wilson called “sensible, fair, liberal and humane” when it was drafted. I’d call it “stupid, unfair, liberal and lamebrained”. It has lawyers wondering how the Family Courts are going to turn out like and those in “relationship partnerships” wondering what is going to happen to their property and liabilities should they split up. Relationship partnership is the piece of legal-speak invented to describe a relationship that wasn’t a marriage but is now being turned into one but can’t be called one. Ninety percent of de facto break ups don’t go to court, now up to 80 percent will.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing. Trouble was, the wording of the bill was up for grabs when Christians and a bunch of Labour MP’s complained that the words “wife” and “husband” were to be taken out of the original legislation and replaced with “partner”. It reminds me of a certain other bill that had an offending word that would stop journalists reporting on political candidates prior to an election for fear of being accused of unfair influence. Guess who’s bill that was? Oh, yeah that’s right, it was Margaret “bloody” Wilson’s bill as well.

So MBW was adamant she was not going to reinsert the offending words (maybe just in case she got another partner in the distant future – perhaps someone called Kevin). However the act had to be renamed as it was originally the Matrimonial Property Act and a large number of people covered by the act were not living in holy matrimony, they were living in sin. So Property (Relationships) Act it was and it is a better name as the Act is about divvying up property, not divvying up the relationship, let alone a marriage one. That’s probably happened by the time the property lawyers are called in.

Now that the new Act has come into force, you can expect lawyers in the Family Court to focus on broken relationships, rather than the court fulfil its primary focus of protecting children within marriage break-ups. Bearing in mind that most defacto relationships don’t last four years, it would have been better if the Government set a five-year relationship threshold, instead of the current three years. That move may take some pressure off the Family Court and limit the need for more judges in this often criticised court. What is needed is further education as most couples haven’t come to grips with the law.

If defacto couples have not drawn up an agreement to protect their assets, they will, after three years together, have to share assets as well as relationship liabilities 50/50 - including student debt, and also split up their superannuation schemes. Assets brought into the relationship don’t count unless their value increases and it is only the increased value that is deemed as shared.

Except if one partner dies. All property is classed as relationship property upon the death of a person in a de facto relationship but their surviving partner doesn’t necessarily get it all. Say if a deceased person was to leave most of their assets to their next of kin with a small amount to their partner. The surviving de facto partner could revoke the will and apply under the Act for a division of property, even though they are not classed as next of kin. It is further complicated if the deceased has left property in his or her will to children from a previous relationship. The current surviving partner can contest that too. It could get messy.

Property rights for de facto couples is a move in the right direction, but Margaret Wilson needs her head read by a man in a long white coat if she thinks this law is “fair and humane”. A better description would be “interfering”.

And it’s not the only thing Margaret bloody Wilson has interfered with lately. Take the new holidays act. If you work on a public holiday, you may be entitled to time and a half plus a day in lieu. If a good friend dies you may be entitled to bereavement leave. You may get lots of leave if you can convince your employer you have lots of good friends who just happen to progressively pop off. Of course if you are self-employed or a temp worker, you won’t get paid anything. If you run a small seven day a week business, or a farm and can’t afford the staff for overtime, it will be you who is working which defeats the purpose of the Holidays Act in the first place – to provide for public holiday observance for “religious and cultural reasons”. Of course Parliament shuts down over Christmas, but any other public holiday worked by politicians would be paid by their employer, the taxpayer. You and I. Like the provisions for paid parental leave (another Margaret Wilson hash), the Holidays Act is just another step in the direction of ensure the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and politicians get everything in their favour.

Margaret Wilson is doing nothing for small businesses – and creates hell for married or de facto’s who form business partnerships before their personal relationship disintegrates. They could not only lose their relationship, they could lose their business as well.

- Dave Crampton is a Wellington-based freelance journalist. He can be contacted at davec@globe.net.nz

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