Review of Property (Relationships) Act 1976

The Property (Relationships) Act 1976 is legislation which regulates the rights of couples to property owned by them and especially property acquired by each of them during their relationship.

The legislation is extensive and deals with all relationships that are generally considered to be a marriage. It is based on the principle that both individuals in a relationship are equal and that both financial and non-financial contributions to the relationship should be treated equally.

If a couple applies to the Family Court because they cannot agree on the division of joint property after separation, the Court will generally determine that the relationship property be divided evenly between both parties.

The Law Commission intends to review the Act. It will consult with the public in general and will also engage with stakeholders and appoint an expert advisory group. The Law Society is included in that consultation and Ian Blackman has been invited to contribute to the committee formed by the Law Society which will make submissions to the Law Commission.

Ian’s involvement arises from his reputation as a rural expert. It recognises the importance of the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 as it relates to farmers and especially succession of land to the next generation.

The Law Commission had recently examined trust law. Many commentators criticised the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 for the way it dealt with trusts. They thought that the use of trusts successfully avoided the intention of the Act which was to ensure all property acquired and contributions made to property by a couple would be owned equally. Most of our farming clients have a trust. This is an important way of protecting farmland from a number of risks and especially the risk of the separation or divorce of a succeeding child.

Ian’s involvement in this review is important as few commentators have a rural perspective on how the Act may unfairly disadvantage the farming family. It is important to ensure that the Law Commission and, ultimately, Parliament do not pass laws that have a significantly adverse impact on succession plans. Some plans which are already in place may be adversely affected by a change to the legislation. Ian will be upholding the viewpoint that any changes made to the legislation should not affect the ability of the next generation to plan their affairs in a way that ensures farmland can continue to stay with farming families.

Ian will report from time to time on the issues and outcomes associated with this review.

For more information, please visit the Law Commission website at: www.lawcom.govt.nz  and search for “Review of the Property (Relationships) Act 1976”.

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