Relationship Property

What you need to know about - Relationship Property
The law dealing with the division of a couple’s property when they separate or one of them dies changes on 1 February 2002.
The changes are in the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 and affect both married and de facto couples.

How does this affect us if we separate?
Both married and de facto (including same sex) couples are now covered by the same property sharing rules. Previously these rules only applied to married couples. This generally means that property will be shared equally if you separate.

Are we in a de facto relationship?
You and your partner are considered to be in a de facto relationship if you are both aged 18 or over and live together as a couple without being married.

The new property sharing rules apply if you have been in a de facto relationship for at least three years and the relationship ends on or after 1 February 2002. In general, the new rules do not apply if your relationship has been for less than three years.

What happens to our property if one of us dies?
As well as applying when couples separate, the rules now also apply to marriages or de facto relationships that end when a spouse or partner dies. If your spouse or partner dies, you can choose to take what you have been left in their will or to receive a half-share of property under the Act.

 The Act applies to existing wills. However, you and your spouse or partner can agree that the new rules will not apply when one of you dies.

What if our economic positions are different when we separate?
The court has new powers to order lump sum payments from one spouse or partner to the other in certain circumstances. This is to help address differences in economic position when a marriage or relationship breaks down.

For example, this might happen where one person gives up paid work to care for the children, while the other concentrates their efforts on advancing their own career.

Can we make different arrangements?
The Act allows you to make your own arrangements for dividing property when you separate or one of you dies, if that is what you both prefer. This is called contracting out. You can contract out before or during your marriage or relationship.

If you are in a de facto relationship, from 1 August 2001 you can enter into a contracting out agreement before the main changes take effect on 1 February 2002.

If you are married and you want to contract out of the new property division rules when one of you dies, you can also put an agreement in place from 1 August 2001.

You must put contracting out agreements in writing, and you and your spouse or partner must sign them. You must both have independent legal advice before signing.

If you are in a de facto relationship and you already have an agreement about your property that was made before 1 August 2001, then, provided the agreement is valid, the Act will not apply. This also applies to agreements between spouses about the division of property if one dies.

How can I get more information?
More information can be found on the Ministry of Justice website, If you want information on how the Act applies to you, then you should seek advice from a lawyer or your local community law centre.

This information is based on the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 is only a summary. If you want detailed information or advice on how the Act applies in your situation, then you should seek advice from a lawyer or from your local community law centre.

Some of the inf9ormation was obtained from the Ministry of Justice, the USA Law Society and Department of Labour publications to ensure accurac.