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Family law

Dividing your property when you split up (“Relationship property”)

Making your own agreement to divide your property: “Contracting out”

Can a couple contract out of the Property (Relationships) Act?

Property (Relationships) Act 1976, ss 21–21D

A couple can choose to share their property differently than how the Property (Relationships) Act sets out. They can do this by making a contracting out agreement (sometimes known as a “prenuptial” agreement – or “pre-nup”) which says how they want to share the property. Using a contracting out agreement is the only binding way of dividing property if a relationship ends, other than going to court and having court orders made.

When can a contracting out agreement be made?

Property (Relationships) Act 1976, s 21

A contracting out agreement can be made at any time: upon entering a relationship, during it, or at the end of the relationship. Agreements are often used by couples entering a second or subsequent relationship later in life, especially if they already have substantial property which they wish to keep as their own separate property. It is, however, important that an agreement is made before the relationship or marriage/civil union has lasted three years, as entitlements will change at that time.

What requirements must be met for a contracting out agreement to be valid?

Property (Relationships) Act 1976, s 21F

There are important requirements that must be complied with if the agreement is to be valid:

  • The agreement must be in writing and signed by both parties.
  • Each party must get independent legal advice before signing the agreement. This means that the parties will need to get advice from separate lawyers.
  • The signature of each party to the agreement must be witnessed by their lawyer.
  • The lawyer who witnesses someone’s signature must certify that, before the person signed the agreement, the lawyer explained to that person the effect and implications of the agreement.

These requirements are designed to protect the people entering into a contracting out agreement, as an agreement has the same effect as a court order and cannot be easily set aside.

Can the court set aside a contracting out agreement?

Property (Relationships) Act 1976, s 21J

The court can only set aside a contracting out agreement if it would result in a “serious injustice” (be very unfair). For example, this might be where an agreement is very one-sided and doesn’t allow one partner to share in property acquired during the relationship.

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Relationships and break-ups

Where to go for more support

Community Law


Your local Community Law Centre can provide free initial legal advice and information.

Births, Death & Marriages (Department of Internal Affairs)


This website has information about marriages and civil unions. On this site you can also apply online for a marriage licence or download the application forms.

Family Court


This Family Court webpage provides a range of information relevant to adult relationships, including information on separation, dissolution, relationship property and the court processes that apply in those areas. You can access pamphlets online, as well as Family Court forms such as Dissolution of Marriage Application packs.

Family Court fee waiver forms

Family Court fee waiver (or refund) forms are available here:


New Zealand Law Society



  • Living together
  • Dividing up relationship property
  • What happens to your children when you part?
  • What happens when your relationship breaks up?

You can access pamphlets online or order hard copies from the New Zealand Law Society.

Phone: (04) 472 7837

Email: pamphlets@lawsociety.org.nz

Work and Income


Relationships often have a significant impact on personal finances. For information on how your changing relationship status might affect what benefits you are entitled to, contact Work and Income.

Phone: 0800 559 009

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