Washington International Law Journal


In February 2002, when the Property (Relationships) Act came into force, unmarried couples in New Zealand became subject to the same legislative regime for division of property that has applied to married couples since the 1970s. The statutory regime is based on a deferred community property principle. Both partners are free to deal with their own property during the relationship, but at the end of the relationship all property is classified as either relationship property or separate property. Relationship property usually includes all property acquired by either party during the relationship. There is a presumption that this property must be divided equally between the parties when the relationship comes to an end. Separate property, typically property owned prior to the relationship, generally remains with the original owner, though this property too must be shared with the other partner in certain circumstances. Previously, property of unmarried couples was divided upon separation according to the general rules of law and equity. While other jurisdictions apply a deferred property regime to married partners, New Zealand dppears to be the first to apply the regime to unmarried couples to this extent. The requirement that couples who live together but have not undertaken the commitment of marriage must share their property 50/50 raises difficult issues of both law and policy. The most obvious legal issues relate to the determination as to whether, and from what point in time, an unmarried relationship is subject to this property regime. The most important policy issue is whether, when applied to unmarried couples, the deferred property regime leads to fairer results than the traditional treatment. These and other questions are addressed in this article.

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