Relationship Property – What is it?  

February 16, 2024




Relationship property is the property that is shared between partners when a relationship ends. The Property (Relationships) Act 1976 is the law that governs how the property of couples who are married, in a civil union, or in a de facto relationship is divided.  

Relationship property includes the family home and all family chattels, regardless of when they were acquired. Family chattels are things like furniture, appliances, household tools, pets, and vehicles used for family purposes. It does not matter who owned the family home or family chattels before the relationship, or who contributed more to them, they are still relationship property and must be divided equally between partners. 

Other relationship property may include: 

- all property owned jointly by the partners; 

- property bought in anticipation of the relationship (e.g., a holiday home bought by one partner before marriage or civil union with the intention of using it for the family); 

- superannuation and KiwiSaver schemes (the portion that relates to the relationship period); 

- rental and investment properties; 

- shares and investments; 

- business interests; 

- rights in relation to a trust (in some cases); and 

- relationship debt (which does not have to be in both partners' names). 

Some property or debts may be classified as ‘separate property’ rather than relationship property. Separate property belongs to the owner, and is not divided. There are also exceptions to the equal division rule that can result in relationship property being divided unequally in some situations. 

The Property (Relationships) Act 1976 was amended in 2023 to reflect changes in our society and relationships. Some of the main changes are: 

- extending the equal sharing rule to cover all relationships of three years or more, regardless of whether the partners lived together or not; 

- allowing the court to award compensation to a partner who has suffered economic disadvantage as a result of the relationship or its end; 

- recognising the value of non-financial contributions, such as caring for children or relatives, to the relationship property; 

- giving the court more discretion to deal with trusts that affect the relationship property; and 

- providing more guidance on how to divide property that has sentimental or cultural significance. 

If you need advice on relationship property, or would like to discuss making a relationship property agreement, please contact us – we have experts who can help you.