The Property (Relationships) Act

About the Law
The is the law about how property should be divided when relationships end. Now, if you are married or in a de facto relationship, even if you are a same-sex couple, and your relationship ends by separation or because one of you dies, then you will be affected by the Property (Relationships) Act (the PRA) that came into force on 1 February 2002.

This act replaces the Matrimonial Property Act 1976, which applied only to married couples.

The PRA presumes that each partner contributes equally to their relationship, even though that may be in different ways, and it aims to provide a just division (almost always equal) of the relationship property when the relationship ends, taking into account the interests of any children involved.

Where a rule applies only to a married person, the term “spouse” is used and where a rule applies only to a de facto person, the term “de facto partner” is used. Similarly, the word “relationship” is used to denote both a marriage and a de facto relationship.

Who does the PRA apply to?
The PRA applies automatically to all married couples and those who have been living together in a de facto situation for a minimum of three years whether they are of the same or opposite sex.

It applies to relationships that end on or after 1 February 2002 even if they began before that date. It does not apply to de facto relationships that ended before 1 February 2002. It applies whether a relationship ends through separation or death - and can override the provisions of a deceased partner’s will.

Discussing at the start of a relationship how you should divide property if you break up may seem pessimistic, grasping and untrusting but anyone who is in a relationship now or who enters a new relationship should give the PRA careful thought.

It is especially important that people who have deliberately chosen not to marry or who have put agreements in place to protect their property (perhaps to preserve it for their children from an earlier relationship) or who have set up family trusts, should check with their lawyers to see how this new law affects those arrangements.

What are the rules for relationships of short duration?
The rules for dividing property when a relationship is of short duration (usually less than three years) differ for married couples and de facto couples.

When a marriage of short duration ends through separation, property is generally shared on a basis similar to the old Matrimonial Property Act which may mean that it is divided on the basis of contributions to the marriage rather than shared equally where one spouse’s contribution has been clearly greater than the other’s.

If a marriage of short duration (even if very brief) is ended by death, it will be treated as a marriage of long duration with the surviving partner having the same rights to an equal share of the relationship property, unless the court considers that would be unjust.

It is acknowledged that some of this content was obtained from information available from the Ministry of Justice,, from the the USA Law Society in publications, from the Govt. website and from the Department of labour