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Family law

Marriages, civil unions and de facto relationships

De facto relationships

Care of Children Act 2004, s 47

For most areas of the law, de facto partners now have the same status as people who are married or in a civil union. For example, when a de facto couple splits up, the laws that deal with how their property is divided are largely the same as the laws for married and civil union couples (see: “Relationship property” for more information).

The Care of Children Act 2004 also treats de facto partners the same as married couples – for example, the de facto partner of a child’s parent can apply for a Parenting Order for the child, just like the partner married to the parent can apply for one. However, the exact definition of a de facto relationship is different in different areas of the law (see below).

What is a “de facto relationship”?

Legislation Act 2019, s 14 Property (Relationships) Act 1976, s 2D

A de facto relationship is a relationship between two people who live together as a couple but who aren’t married or in a civil union. For the relationship to be legally recognised, however, you both have to be a certain age, and this age can vary depending on the particular area of law.

For example, there’s a general definition of a de facto relationship in the Legislation Act, which includes a requirement that both people must be at least 16, and that 16 and 17 year olds need the consent of a Family Court Judge. This definition applies to areas of law like the Care of Children Act, which doesn’t have its own definition of de facto relationship.

On the other hand, the Property (Relationships) Act, which deals with how property is divided when a couple break up, does have its own definition of de facto relationship. This says both partners must be at least 18 for the relationship to be recognised under that Act. So when it comes to dividing property, it’s this minimum age of 18 that applies.

The Property (Relationships) Act also sets out a number of specific factors for the court to consider when deciding whether two people have in fact been living together in a de facto relationship – such as whether you live in the same house, whether you have a sexual relationship, and how the relationship appears to other people (see: “Who’s covered by the Property (Relationships) Act”).

How do de facto relationships begin and end?

De facto relationships are unlike marriages and civil unions because no formal legal steps are required to begin or end a de facto relationship. However, it can be helpful to keep a record (even informally) to help prove that you were in a de facto relationship for the purposes of dividing your relationship property.

For more information about de facto relationships, see: “What’s a “de facto relationship” under the Property (Relationships) Act?”.

Next Section | Separating

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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: www.communitylaw.org.nz/our-law-centres

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.

Website: www.justice.govt.nz/family/separation-divorce
Application for a dissolution of marriage (divorce): www.justice.govt.nz/family/separation-divorce/apply-for-a-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.

Website: www.govt.nz/organisations/births-deaths-and-marriages
Email: bdm@dia.govt.nz
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: www.lawsociety.org.nz/for-the-public/common-legal-issues/what-happens-when-your-relationship-breaks-up

Information on dividing up relationship property: www.lawsociety.org.nz/for-the-public/common-legal-issues/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.

Website: www.workandincome.govt.nz
Phone: 0800 559 009

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