Many legal minds making NZ LAW work

We are an association of independent legal practices, proactively sharing ideas and expertise for the benefit of our clients.

Ending marriages of short duration

Published: 14th July 2015

Author: Tanya Surrey, Mactodd

Published in: Fine Print | Issue #67

Whirlwind romances can be wonderful and dramatic things. We’ve all been taken by surprise at some stage in life by a friend announcing a wedding to someone they haven’t known for long but insists ‘this is the one’. Hollywood loves the Las Vegas style wedding too. Sadly, however, some of these more dramatic pairings don’t stand the test of time and the law makes special provision for what’s known as a ‘marriage of short duration’.

The Property (Relationship) Act 1976 (usually known as the PRA) applies to anyone who has been in a relationship whether it’s a marriage, a civil union or a de facto situation.

Marriages of three years plus

Under the PRA the rule of thumb is that property is divided equally after separation although there are various exceptions, particularly where prenuptial arrangements are in place. The definition of property under the PRA includes tangible and intangible property. Tangible property includes items such as houses, cars, furniture, jewellery, money, equipment and so on. Intangible items are such things as business interests and superannuation benefits. All property owned by both parties has to be considered and classified, and must be disclosed to the other partner regardless of when it was acquired. In some situations a specialist valuer will be needed to help sort this out.

Marriages of short duration

The PRA defines a ‘marriage of short duration’ as one lasting for less than three years. The 50/50 rule only applies to marriages of short duration when the contributions to the relationship are equal. In a 2012 decision, the High Court held that “the determination of the duration of the parties’ relationship is fundamentally a determination of the fact”. The courts will look at the factual matrix and circumstances of a particular couple. When dealing with the property division in a ‘marriage of short duration’ the court must consider if the contribution of one spouse to the marriage has clearly been disproportionately greater than the contribution of the other spouse. The contributions of each person are set out in section 18 of the PRA and include:

  • Care of any child of the marriage (this can include step-children)
  • Management of the household and the performance of household duties
  • Provision of money, including the earning of income, for the purposes of marriage
  • Acquisition or creation of relationship property, including the payment of money for those purposes
  • Payment of money to maintain or increase the value of:
    • The relationship property, or
    • The separate property of any spouse or any part of such property
  • Performance of work or services in respect of:
    • Forgoing of a higher standard of living than would otherwise have been available, and
    • Giving of assistance or support to the other spouse (whether or not of a material kind), including the giving of assistance or support that aids the other spouse in the carrying on of his or her occupation or business.

Once all of these factors are considered the courts then decide who gets what.

The principle is straightforward – at least in theory. Spouses are entitled to an equal share in the relationship property unless the contribution of one is considered to be clearly greater than that of the other.

Interestingly if a marriage or civil union of short duration (even if very brief) is ended by one spouse dying, it will be treated as a marriage or civil union of long duration. This means the surviving partner is entitled to an equal share of the property unless a court considers that would be unjust.

Different for de facto couples

The rules for dividing property when a relationship is of short duration (usually less than three years) are different for those in a de facto situation.

In a de facto relationship of less than three years, orders can only be made if the court is satisfied there is a child of the de facto relationship or an applicant has made a ‘substantial contribution’ to the de facto relationship and the failure to make an order would result in a ‘serious injustice’.

If you’re concerned about asset protection and the division of relationship property, do talk with us early on in your separation.

Sadly not all whirlwind romances have the Hollywood ending even if they do begin with an Elvis impersonator in a chapel in Vegas!

[¹] RSQ v BQ [2012] NZFC 272

Related Articles

  • Auckland
  • Bay of Plenty
  • Canterbury
  • Coromandel
  • Gisborne
  • Hawke's Bay
  • Kapiti Coast
  • Manawatu - Wanganui
  • Marlborough
  • Nelson
  • Northland
  • Otago
  • Southland
  • Taranaki
  • Waikato
  • Wairarapa
  • Wellington
  • West Coast

Mike Lucas Law

We are a small law firm based in the business hub of Manurewa, South Auckland, New Zealand.

We are delighted to have many clients in Manurewa and Manukau City, as well as in the wider Auckland region and New Zealand and abroad.

We think the best evidence of the value we add comes from our clients themselves. Our nomination and final position as First Runner up of the highly competitive and prestigious Regional Law Firm of the Year Award 2007 depended on our clients' endorsements of our work.

Region: Auckland

Phone: 09 269 2844

Jackson Reeves Lawyers

Jackson Reeves is a long established law firm that has been providing quality legal services in Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty region for over 60 years. We have proven expertise in business and personal law and deliver high calibre legal advice and solutions that work for you.

Choosing a law firm is not always an easy decision but you can take comfort in the knowledge that Jackson Reeves take a client focussed approach, providing specialist and practical legal services. Old fashioned virtues, like integrity, transparency and trust are of importance to us and we value quality, relationships and diversity.

Region: Bay of Plenty

Phone: 07 578 2129

Malley & Co

Our experienced, solutions-focused team will work hard to get you the best possible outcome, whatever your legal needs.

Region: Canterbury

Phone: 03 379 0712

Purnell Lawyers

There is nothing as inevitable as change. Since opening for business early last century, we at Purnell Lawyers have seen many changes both in name and in the people who have made up the members of our team. We have been privileged to have served the public throughout all of these times. 

We are confident that we will continue to bring top quality legal services to our clients well into the future.

Region: Coromandel

Phone: 07 868 8680

Woodward Chrisp

At Woodward Chrisp we strive to meet the needs of our clients by providing a wide range of high quality legal services within a supportive and collaborative environment.

Woodward Chrisp is the amalgamation of two long established Gisborne legal firms: Woodward Iles & Co and Chrisp and Chrisp. Today’s partners are Ross Revington, Adam Simperingham, Jeff Allen and Ellie FitzGerald.

Region: Gisborne

Phone: 06 869 0900

NZ LAW Limited

NZ LAW Limited is an association of independent legal practices with member firms located throughout New Zealand. There are currently 53 member firms practising in a wide range of legal disciplines ranging from business law, home buying and selling, immigration law and intellectual property to aviation law and viticulture.

The group was established in 1992 when about five law firms met in Auckland to find a way to benefit their clients by replicating the conviviality and the sharing of ideas and expertise that occurs in larger law firms, but still be able to retain client confidentiality and their own independence.

Region: Hawke's Bay

Phone: 06 835 5299

BMC Lawyers

BMC lawyers has built a reputation for providing quality service and delivering real results. Our strength is our broad-ranging legal experience that gives us the ability to match clients with the right mix of legal skills for their particular needs.

Our legal professionals are passionate about what they do and work alongside a talented team of support and administration staff to make a real positive difference to our clients.”

Region: Kapiti Coast

Phone: 04 296 1105

Dorrington Poole

Dorrington Poole Lawyers has a long tradition in Dannevirke and was founded in 1914 by Percy Dorrington. The firm still acts for families of some of the earliest clients. The long term relationship with those clients gives continuity in a fast changing world.

The firm provides quality legal services within New Zealand for its rural, commercial and private clients. We provide services for clients not only in the Southern Hawkes Bay/Tararua area but also throughout the country.

Region: Manawatu - Wanganui

Phone: 06 374 7089

Wain & Naysmith

Based in Blenheim, Wain & Naysmith Lawyers is a full service law firm, and a powerhouse for property, family and business law.

We pride ourselves in providing clear and cost effective legal solutions and practical advice for you, your family and your business.

Region: Marlborough

Phone: 03 520 6103

Knapps Lawyers

As a firm, we promise to look after you and treat you in a manner that we would expect to be treated by a professional services provider; we promise to use every available legal remedy available to us to resolve your issue and to do what you ask us to do in a timely manner.

We will hold in strict confidence all information that we acquire through our work for you and which concerns your business or personal information.  The only exceptions are where you authorise us to disclose such information or where we must do so by law.

Region: Nelson

Phone: 03 544 7888

Thomson Wilson

Thomson Wilson is a full service law firm based in Whangarei. We’ve been trusted lawyers for the Northland community and beyond for 75 years.

We act for individuals and families, businesses, public sector and other organisations. Whether you need no-fuss advice on a simple matter, or a team of legal experts. 

Our staff provide advice in most areas of the law, including property law, business law, trusts and estates, separation and divorce, resource management, criminal law and more.

We also offer expertise in specialist areas such as Maori land, local government law, farming and forestry.

Region: Northland

Phone: 09 430 4380

Sumpter Moore

Sumpter Moore is based in South Otago and has a proud history of having provided a broad range of legal services to personal clients and businesses since 1873. Generations of families have been able to rely on our advice and assistance, because Sumpter Moore has stood behind that advice for over 100 years.

Sumpter Moore has fully serviced offices in both Balclutha and Milton, our relatively small size means we can work closely with our clients and you know who will be personally responsible for your legal affairs. It allows us to have close control over the quality and timeliness of the advice you receive.

Region: Otago

Phone: 03 418 0066

Cruickshank Pryde

We are proud to provide a full suite of legal services to the regions of Southland and Central Otago. With our offices, located in Invercargill, Gore and Queenstown, equipped with the latest modern technology, we can service wider New Zealand and international clients with ease. Our areas of expertise include commercial, rural, business, employment, family, criminal, property, resource management and estate planning law.

Region: Southland

Phone: 03 214 4069

Welsh McCarthy

Welsh McCarthy practises in Hawera, South Taranaki. Predominant industries in the South Taranaki district are dairy farming, oil and gas. The South Taranaki area also has the largest one-site multi product milk processing facility in the world

We deal with company and commercial transactions, commercial and family law, farm and residential sales and purchases, estate planning and family and charitable trusts. A large part of the firm also deals in the area of family law.

Region: Taranaki

Phone: 06 278 5039

Edmonds Marshall

Edmonds Marshall, Lawyers, Matamata has been providing legal services to individuals and businesses since 1918, when the partnership was known as Buchanan & Purnell.

John Buchanan moved from Thames to Matamata to open another office of Buchanan & Purnell in 1918. Mr Buchanan was also Mayor of the Matamata Borough Council from 1941-1942 and he played a large part within the Matamata community, inaugurating several of the local sports clubs.

Region: Waikato

Phone: 07 888 8137

Gawith Burridge

Gawith Burridge traces its history back to 1875 when Charles Gawith first set up his practice. Since then the firm has undergone many changes, including a merger between Gawith & Co and Burridge & Co in 1998 to form our current practice.

Our firm draws on the breadth of expertise available from some of the region’s most senior legal practitioners, as well as the skills of those who have moved here from larger corporate environments.

As a result, we provide clients with a comprehensive range of legal services right here in the Wairarapa. We can provide you with legal assistance whether you are an individual or a company, with everything from setting up a Will to selling your farming business. 

Region: Wairarapa

Phone: 06 370 0000

Gillespie Young Watson

We specialise in Property, Commercial and Trust Law. When it comes to law firm size we are bigger than smaller and smaller than big. By limiting the work we do to our specialist areas, we like to think we bring together the best of big firm skill sets with the personal care, attention and relationships of small firms.

We expect our clients to receive clear, practical and timely advice. We place a premium on accessibility and convenience to our clients. We value and appreciate all of our clients and want to do the best possible job for each of them. When we close a file we want the client to feel they have received exceptional advice, service and value.

Region: Wellington

Phone: 04 569 3997

Hannan & Seddon

The Law Firm of Hannan & Seddon dates back to September 1867.

The firm's offices were in Werita Street from 1867 until 1982 when the firm moved to Tarapuhi Street and then to its current spacious premises at 61 Guinness Street in 1998.

The name Hannan comes from Mr Michael Hannan whose son John Hannan (Jack) joined the firm in 1908. Jack Hannan remained in partnership until he passed away in 1974 at the age of 90!

The name Seddon comes from Mr T E Y Seddon (son of Premier Richard John Seddon from Kumara) who joined the firm in the 1920's. The other prominent Solicitor at Hannan & Seddon was Cyril McGinley who joined the firm in the late 1920’s and retired as a Consultant in 1997 aged 87.

Currently we have two Partners within our firm. Tony Sullivan who has been with us for 29 years and Colin Smith, 26 years. The firm also has two long serving Legal Executives Elaine Knowles and Beverley Walsh.  

Region: West Coast

Phone: 03 768 4169

All the information published on this website, or in any article herein is true and accurate to the best of the authors' knowledge. Information on this site should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by NZ LAW Limited, or individual NZ LAW member firms for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on information published on this site. Views expressed in any article are the views of the authors individually and do not necessarily reflect the view of NZ LAW or their member firms. Information appearing on this site may only be reproduced with prior approval from NZ LAW Limited Head Office, and credit being given to the source. © NZ LAW Limited