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Consultation Opens - Relationship Property Law

7 June 2000

MEDIA RELEASE – JUSTICE AND ELECTORAL COMMITTEE

CONSULTATION OPENS ON PROPOSED CHANGES TO RELATIONSHIP PROPERTY LAW

(SUPPLEMENTARY ORDER PAPER NO 25)


The Justice And Electoral Committee is inviting public submissions on supplementary order paper no 25. The chair of the Committee, Tim Barnett, has announced today that the closing date for submissions is Friday, 7 July 2000.

The matrimonial property amendment bill will make changes to the law covering the property relationships of married couples. The Supplementary Order Paper (SOP) will extend the bill to cover couples in de facto relationships, including same sex couples, and make other changes to the law covering relationship property. Although the government administration Committee heard public submissions on both these bills in the last parliament, the House has referred the SOP to the Justice And Electoral Committee for further consideration because there are substantial new items of interest to all people in relationships. The public has four weeks to make submissions. The Committee has to report the SOP back to the House by 4 September 2000.

The main effect of the SOP will be to extend the law covering matrimonial property to couples who are living in de facto relationships, whether they are same-sex or opposite-sex relationships. The SOP would not legalise marriage between same-sex couples. It would give all de facto couples the same relationship property rights as married couples.

To be covered by the new legislation, a de facto couple would have to be living in a relationship in the nature of a marriage for at least 3 years (or a shorter period in certain circumstances).

The SOP also proposes to change the rules covering the division of property on the break up of relationships, and to extend the existing provisions governing spousal maintenance.

Further details about the provisions of the SOP are set out in the supplementary information sheet, attached to this media release.

Copies of the SOP and the bill can be purchased from bennetts government bookshops.

The Committee requires 20 copies of each submission. Those wishing to include any information of a private or personal nature in a submission should first discuss this with the clerk of the Committee, as submissions are usually released to the public by the Committee. Those wishing to appear before the Committee to speak to their submissions should state this clearly and provide a daytime telephone contact number. For further guidance on making a submission, our publication making a submission to a parliamentary select Committee can be found on our web site at www.clerk.parliament.govt.nz.


Submissions should be addressed as follows:

Tracey Conlon
Justice And Electoral Committee Secretariat
Parliament House
WELLINGTON

Contact for further details:

For further comment: Tim Barnett MP (Chair of the Justice And Electoral Committee) on  (025) 570 809
For further info: Tracey Conlon on  (04) 471-9539 or tracey.conlon@parliament.govt.nz

Proposed changes to relationship property laws

Information Sheet on
Supplementary Order Paper No 25


7 June 2000


The Justice And Electoral Committee has called for submissions on Supplementary Order Paper No 25. Tim Barnett, the chair of the Committee, has announced that the closing date for submissions is Friday, 7 July 2000. The following information is provided by the Committee to explain the contents of Supplementary Order Paper No 25.


Background

The Matrimonial Property Amendment Bill and the De Facto Relationships (Property) Bill were both introduced to Parliament in March 1998. The previous Government Administration Committee considered both bills and reported the Matrimonial Property Amendment Bill back to the House in September 1999. In the case of the De Facto Relationships (Property) Bill, the Government Administration Committee made only an interim report: that bill is presently being considered by the Justice And Electoral Committee. Copies of the report and the interim report, as well as copies of the legislation, are available from Bennetts Government Bookstores.

After the second reading of the Matrimonial Property Amendment Bill, the Government decided to introduce a Supplementary Order Paper (SOP No 25) that would, among other things, extend the bill to cover de facto relationships.

Definition of de facto relationships

Among other amendments, SOP No 25 proposes to give couples in de facto relationships the same relationship property rights as married couples. De facto relationships are defined as relationships, including same-sex relationships, where 2 people are living together in the nature of a marriage, although not married to each other. The amendments will cover de facto relationships of at least 3 years (or a shorter period in certain circumstances). The SOP does not deal with the issue of same-sex marriage.

Measures to address economic disadvantage

The SOP proposes to change the Matrimonial Property Act 1976 to address the issue of economic disadvantage suffered by a non-career partner when a relationship breaks down. The SOP will give the courts the power to order one partner to pay a lump sum of money to the other partner if the former partner’s career has been advantaged because of the division of responsibilities in the relationship. It also provides that where one partner’s separate property has increased because of the direct or indirect actions of the other partner, they will share the increase proportionally in accordance with their contributions to the relationship.

Single rule for the division of relationship property

The SOP proposes that there be a single rule covering the division of all relationship property. Relationship property will be divided equally between the parties unless there are extraordinary circumstances that would make an equal division of the relationship property repugnant to justice. Different rules would apply if the relationship or marriage lasted for fewer than three years.

Property agreements strengthened

Further provisions will alter the law covering relationship property agreements. Where a couple have signed an agreement about the division of their property, it will be more difficult, under the proposed amendments, to have that agreement overturned by the courts. Currently, the test applied by the courts is whether the agreement is “unjust”. The SOP proposes a test of “serious injustice.”

Estate of a deceased partner

The SOP will give de facto partners the same rights as legal spouses in cases where the other partner has died. This includes the right to make a claim on the estate of the deceased partner and to make a claim where the deceased partner has died without a will.

Spousal maintenance extended

The SOP will give the courts a wider discretion to award spousal maintenance. The courts will be able to take into account a wider range of factors when they assess whether to award maintenance payments. These factors include: the standard of living of the partners; their future earning capacity; the effect of the relationship on their careers; their contribution to the relationship; and their responsibility for children. De facto relationships will also be covered by these provisions.


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