Marriages, civil unions and de facto relationships

Civil unions

Who can enter into a civil union?

Civil Union Act 2004, ss 7–9

A civil union is a legal relationship similar to marriage.

You can enter into a civil union if:

  • neither of you are currently married or in a civil union with someone else, and
  • you’re not closely related by blood, marriage, civil union, or adoption (a list of the kinds of relationships that are not allowed is in Schedule 2 of the Civil Union Act 2004), and
  • you’re both 18 or older. If either of you are 16 or 17, that person will need permission from the Family Court (it will be the same process of asking the Family Court permission to get married at 16 or 17 – see: “16 and 17 year olds need a judge’s permission to get married“).

How do I enter into a civil union?

Civil Union Act 2004, ss 7–9

You’ll need to get a civil union licence and then have a formal ceremony before a Registrar of Civil Unions or an approved civil union celebrant.

First, you’ll need to submit a “Notice of Intended Civil Union” with the Registrar. You can find this form online, here (or go to and search “Get a civil union licence”). The notice includes a statutory declaration, which one of you will have to sign in front of a Registrar of Civil Unions at a Births, Deaths and Marriages office. A list of locations to sign the form is included at the end of the form.

You’ll also have to pay a fee. You will be given information about how to post your payment to the Births, Deaths and Marriages office in Wellington on the form.

You will be sent a civil union licence and two copies of the “Copy of particulars of civil union,” a form with all the details of the people getting the civil union. Give all three of these documents to your celebrant before your ceremony.

The civil union ceremony

You have to have the ceremony within three months after you get the civil union licence. The ceremony can be carried out by a Registrar of Civil Unions at a Registry Office during ordinary business hours, or by an approved civil union celebrant at some other place, at any time or day of the week. You can search for a civil union celebrant at

How does a civil union formally end?

A civil union formally comes to an end when the Family Court issues a divorce (Dissolution Order), the same as with a marriage (see: “Divorce: Getting a “Dissolution” Order”).

Changing a civil union into a marriage

A married couple can also change their relationship from a marriage to a civil union (or the other way around) without getting divorced first (see: “How does a marriage formally end?” for more on this process).

Next Section | De facto relationships

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Relationships and break-ups

Where to go for more support

Community Law

Your local Community Law Centre can provide you with free initial legal advice.

Find your local Community Law Centre online:

Family Court

This Family Court provides a range of information relevant to adult relationships, including information on separation, dissolution, relationship property and the relevant court processes.

Application for a dissolution of marriage (divorce):

Births, Death & Marriages (Department of Internal Affairs)

Births, Death and Marriages have information about marriages and civil unions. You can also apply online for your marriage licence or download the application forms.

Phone: 0800 22 52 52

New Zealand Law Society

The Law Society has helpful information on what happens when your relationship ends.

Information on separation, divorce, care of children and maintenance:

Information on dividing up relationship property:

Ministry of Social Development – Work and Income (WINZ)

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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