What is relationship property under New Zealand law?

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Knowing what is and isn’t relationship property is key to understanding how property is divided after separation (or death). Relationship property is always divided, separate property is not. Find details on what is considered separate property here. 

The way the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 (the Act) works can be complicated – which is why it’s always a great idea to come and talk to us.  For now, here’s a simple overview to summarise the most important rules.

Overview of the Act

The Act deals with dividing the property of married couples, civil union partners, and de facto couples when a relationship ends. Usually, relationship property is split 50/50 in every relationship longer than three years and includes the family home and joint or common property.

Certain property acquired by succession or by survivorship or as a beneficiary under a trust or by gift is not deemed relationship property (like an inheritance) unless it has been intermingled with other relationship property. The value of the property is usually determined on the date of the court hearing.

There are many assets considered as relationship property unless designated separate property in a Contracting Out Agreement.

What is a Contracting Out Agreement?

Contracting Out Agreements (COA), often referred to as prenups, are possible under the Act and can include specific clauses to exclude certain properties as separate assets. A COA is a written agreement setting out the division of relationship property in the event of separation or death. The chances of reaching such an agreement early on, while the relationship is still on good terms, are better and far less risky.

Examples of relationship property

Essential family property, such as the home that the couple live in, called the family home, and family chattels (furniture, household appliances, cars used for family purposes, pets, etc)

  • Property acquired during the relationship
  • Wages or salary received during the relationship
  • Property owned jointly or in equal shares
  • The part of the KiwiSaver scheme that was obtained from contributions during the relationship.  That means that the parts of the KiwiSaver scheme that were obtained before the relationship began and after the separation date are separate property.

For the family home and family chattels, it does not matter that this property was owned by one of the partners before the relationship began – this property will always be relationship property.

Our Client’s Story

*names have been changed 

Mr Jagger* was in a situation where his ex-partner wanted to divide their property after they broke up. His partner, Mrs Jagger* claimed that a cash amount she inherited during her relationship with Mr Jagger was entirely hers, even though some of it was used to buy the family home and other assets like cryptocurrency.

We argued that the inheritance received by Mr Jagger’s ex-partner during their relationship could not be considered as her separate property and could not be taken back by her, because it was mixed with other shared assets. Mrs Jagger could not claim the inheritance money as separate property since it was used to buy the family home and cryptocurrency. When the shared assets were sold, the proceeds were shared equally.

If Mrs Jagger had entered into a Contracting Out Agreement before using her inheritance to purchase the family home and other chattels, she could have avoided losing half of her inheritance.

Shine Lawyers can help

At Shine Lawyers, we understand that dealing with relationship property can be a complex and emotional process. That’s why our team of expert lawyers is here to help.

With years of experience in this area of law, we can provide you with practical advice and guide you through the process of dividing your property when a relationship ends. We will investigate your situation, explain all the options available to you, and provide advice on securing the best outcome for your assets. Our goal is to help you move forward with confidence and peace of mind.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can assist you with your relationship property matters. 


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