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The Law Commission's 9 key proposals to the Relationship Property Act

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The Law Commission’s “preferred approach” to a new Relationship Property Act includes proposals to:

1. Make children’s best interests the primary consideration in relationship property splits.

2. Give courts the power to set relationship property aside for the benefit of dependent children.

3. Favour granting occupation or tenancy orders to the primary caregiver.

4. Postpone the vesting of relationship property if doing so immediately would cause undue hardship for any minor or dependent child.

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5. Make it easier for lawyers to represent children in legal proceedings.

6. Entitle separating couples to share future family income through a Family Income Sharing Arrangement (Fisa), which replaces existing maintenance and economic disparity provisions. Couples would be entitled to Fisa if they have a child together, have been together 10 or more years, or one partner reduced or didn’t take on paid work to make contributions to the relationship (e.g. by raising children as the stay-at-home parent).

7. Treat property acquired by one partner before the relationship began, or inherited during it, as separate, and not to be divided equally. The other partner should be entitled to only half the increase in value of the property during the relationship.

8. Enable courts to intervene in “contracting out” agreements – where couples agree not to be bound by the Property (Relationships) Act – in the best interests of the children, if the agreement causes serious injustice.

9. Enable courts to use property held in trust to settle relationship property claims when any claim or rights under the act are frustrated by the use of a trust.

The Law Commission plans to present its final report by June 2019.

This article was first published in the December 15, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.