Relationship Property Matters

Relationship Property Matters: keeping it real by Roslyn Morshead, of Rotorua’s Morshead Law ros@morsheadlaw.co.nz

Relationship property matters for many people conjure up images akin to TV series like Boston Law:  high-flying suited lawyers, baring one’s soul and sins before an entire court room, admitting fault, submitting to lie detector and/or DNA tests, alimony, child support … all costing the moon and months in court.

Relationship property matters arise in three main situations:
1) when people wish to make an agreement as to what is separate vs jointly-owned or relationship property;
2) when a relationship has ended and the parties divide their relationship property assets and liabilities;
3) when a person dies.

Thankfully, with a few rare exceptions, New Zealand’s relationship property framework is not concerned with establishing fault like occurs in some other countries (read any celeb news recently blaming one party for irreconcilable differences?).  Our relationship property laws are relatively pragmatic for the most part, and many people can reach an agreement without having to go to court.  Note that each party does require their own solicitor to advise them and certify the agreement.

Part of my practice includes assisting people whose relationship has ended by helping them sort out the key issues to bring the parties to an agreement, work through the settlement formalities and out the other side.  It is a stressful time, and people can get caught up focusing on red herrings and unable to see the wood for the trees.  People commonly go through a number of reactions including finding fault and/or blaming the other for the final straw that brought the relationship to an end, cherry-picking certain events, digging-up past issues or history, not dealing with the situation hoping it will go away, focusing on minor matters such as the value of knives and forks, using the children as bargaining chips, believing that one contributed more or less than the other and is therefore more or less entitled than the other, and so on.

Typically people also go through a variety of different emotions as they work through the process.  These can include a roller-coaster of guilt, humiliation, loneliness, frustration, isolation, fear, hurt, regret, anger, vengeance, grief, embarrassment, sadness, to name some.  It is often comforting (and surprising) for people to know that their experiences and feelings are entirely normal and valid, and that most people will experience nearly all these emotions at different times as they work through the process – and so will their ex-partner!

With the right legal advisers, many people manage to stay out of the courts and achieve a clean break in settling their relationship property matters, and move on with their lives.