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Muriel Newman: New Law Undermines The Family

Weekly Column by Dr Muriel Newman MP

Under the Labour-Alliance Government, the state has continued on its relentless journey into the heart of New Zealand families. This time the unsuspecting victims are families of cohabiting couples who are not married.

The Property Relationships Act, which came into force on February 2nd 2002, now treats all de-facto and same sex couples that have been together for three years or more as married, with regard to property and assets. Essentially the new law over-rides any personal pre-existing arrangements that these couples, who have chosen not to marry, may have. It imposes a 50:50 property and asset split that takes into account economic disparity and future earnings.

In particular under the new law, Judges will be required to consider the contribution of women within the relationship who may have been pre-occupied with home making and raising children. These Judges will be asked to look at compensating them with more than half of the property because of the fact that their lack of career progress will have caused economic disparity.

Yet this totally ignores the equal contribution of fathers towards the raising of their children. Further, as the law presently exists, after separation, these fathers will be largely excluded from actively participating in the raising of their children. The new law can therefore hardly be described as fair, with fathers being the big losers - not only paying more than half of the value of the relationship assets to their ex-partner but being alienated from their children after the separation. In effect though it is the children who will be worst hit, missing out on the support of their fathers, grandparents and other family members.

The new Property Relationships Act over-rides all previous legal arrangements that a couple may have entered into, including wills which may have been designed to protect the inheritance of children from previous relationships. It also undermines the sanctity of marriage by passing that unique contract protecting property and assets, onto all other relationships.

Domestic relationships have always been regarded as voluntary, with people choosing to marry or not marry of their own free will. This Government however, has decided that it is not prepared to respect the rights of people to be free to accept the responsibility of choosing to live together but not marry, by imposing a contract akin to marriage on 240,000 unsuspecting New Zealanders.

The new law is already becoming a bonanza for lawyers as couples who do not want to be covered make alternative legal arrangements, and it will not be long before the Family Court, already clogged up with a backlog of custody and access cases becomes even more congested.

The Property Relationships Act is the latest in a stream of legislation undermining the family. The attack on the family began with the 1968 Family Proceedings Act, which replaced the age-old understanding that families are responsible for their own, passing that responsibility onto the state. This move gave rise to the introduction of the controversial Independent Youth Benefit, a benefit costing taxpayers some $30 million or so a year. It pays 16 and 17-year-old teenagers, who claim that they cannot live with their parents, to move out of home and live independently.

The Domestic Purposes Benefit introduced in 1973, enabled women with state support, to raise children without the need for a husband. It provided a financial incentive for families to split up, even though the consequences for children of being raised without the support of a father were seen to be damaging.

By incentivising family breakdown, the DPB, along with a family law system which awards preferential sole custody of children to mothers, has created the most under-fathered generation in the western world: more children lose a father every three months from family breakdown than lost a father during the entire period of the Second World War.

Sole parenthood is now the leading cause of poverty among children. The one in four children who live in sole parent families are the major victims of child abuse and neglect, of poor health, of educational failure, and, lacking adequate supervision and support are more susceptible to peer group influence and more likely to exhibit the sort of antisocial and delinquent behaviours that lead to criminal offending.

In 1980, the Family Proceedings Act was amended to introduce no fault divorce, further undermining the strength of the marriage contract. It enabled that contract to be broken without penalty.

When an age-old institution can be broken without penalty, then people say why bother? As a result of no-fault divorce, all western countries with similar laws saw a dramatic increase in cohabitation and a corresponding decline in marriage. The big losers from all of these changes undermining the family are children, since defacto relationships are four to five times more likely to break-up than married families.

Marriage is still the most successful child-rearing institution ever invented, and any government committed to ensuring that children get a good start in life, must strengthen, and not undermine the marriage contract. This Government once again appears to be heading in the wrong direction.


Dr Muriel Newman, MP for ACT New Zealand, writes a weekly opinion piece on topical issues for a number of community newspapers. You are welcome to forward this column to anyone you think may be interested.

View the archive of columns at http://www.act.org.nz/search.jsp?type=y1240 Visit ACT New Zealand's web site: http://www.act.org.nz/ If you no longer wish to remain on our mailing list please advise by return email. Muriel appreciates the opportunity to keep you informed and thanks you for your continued interest in ACT New Zealand.

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