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Relationships Bill Reported Back Select Comm

Relationships (Statutory References) Bill reported back from Select Committee

Parliament’s Justice and Electoral Committee today tabled its report on the Relationships (Statutory References) Bill, recommending some key changes to the Bill while preserving its essential purpose. The Bill amends 180 existing Acts and regulations to address most of the remaining inconsistencies in law in relation to de facto relationships and to include references to civil unions.

The report is available on www.clerk.parliament.govt.nz

Tim Barnett, Chair of the Committee will hold a media conference in Room 2.029, Parliament House, at 1.15pm on Tuesday .

The Committee made changes to the Bill covering:

  • protection of the language associated with marriage;
  • the definition of de facto in general law and in social security law; and
  • deletion of inclusion of de facto relationships in some categories of law.
  • See Appendix 1 for more details.

    Tim Barnett, Chair of the Select Committee, said today:

    “At its heart, this is a straightforward measure which creates a much more commonsense approach in New Zealand law to people living in married, civil union and de facto relationships. There are already 91 laws that include de facto partners. This Bill amends most of the remaining 95 (which are relevant to relationships), in all but one case adding civil union and in most cases adding de facto relationships as well. To achieve this end the Committee painstakingly went through every proposed amendment, categorising them and making a case-by-case decision as to whether the particular law should extend to de facto couples. The Committee supports the Bill by an 8 to 3 majority. “

    “The alternative to this comprehensive tidy-up of law would have been ad hoc reforms as laws came up for review. This has been happening since the 1980s, and was accelerated through the 1990s and to now. A comprehensive overview was required and we have achieved that.

    “The 25% of couples in New Zealand who live together without being married are deserving of protection by most of the laws which also cover married couples. Equally, 3rd parties who deal with couples who live together should be protected - thus laws around disclosure, and prohibiting certain actions or appointments, are included in the Bill.

    “As our report says, the Committee was very mindful of the submissions expressing concern that the bill posed a threat to the status of marriage as a unique institution. We have ensured that language associated with marriage remained associated with marriage alone and did not carry over to civil union or to de facto relationships. We discovered that many current Acts and regulations already defined ‘spouse’ as including people who live in a relationship in the nature of marriage; i.e. de facto couples. We have amended them to ensure consistency of approach.

    “We have also accepted that there are difficult questions remaining, which were outside the scope of the Bill and which need further study. We have recommended that the government refer these matters to the Law Commission. “

    Appendix 1

    The Select Committee’s key recommended changes to the Bill are:

    Changing existing law and proposed amendments to the law to ensure that the language of marriage (e.g. spouse, husband, wife, widow) refers only to married couples, adding separate references to civil union partners.

    Replacing a detailed list of characteristics of a de facto relationship, proposed for inclusion in the Interpretation Act, with the phrase (a de facto relationship is) a relationship in the nature of a marriage or civil union. In determining whether the relationship is a de facto one, the circumstances of the relationship will be taken into account as well as the purpose of the relevant law.

    Deleting the proposed inclusion of de facto relationships where:

    automatic succession rights would apply due to intestacy (in most instances);

    the broader matter involved was already under review e.g. spousal immunity (which is included in the current review of the Evidence Act); and wills made in contemplation of marriage (in the Wills Act 1837 (UK) and being considered by the Law Commission as part of their review of succession); and

    Uncertainty could apply to young people under 18 years should their de facto relationship end before they were 18 years old

    Maintaining the extension of benefit and taxation entitlements and obligations to civil union partners, but removing the proposed redefinition of de facto relationship in the Social Security Act. Current practice will be retained (i.e. use of the definition a relationship in the nature of a marriage) until 1 April 2007, from which time the Interpretation Act definition will apply, (i.e. relationship in the nature of a marriage or civil union) unless the Social Security Act is amended in the meantime.

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