How does the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 work?

The Property (Relationships) Act 1976 divides property between the partners to a relationship if they separate or if one partner dies.

Step One: What kind of relationship were the partners in?

The Property (Relationships) Act 1976 applies to people who have been married, in a civil union or in a de facto relationship for three years or more. There are special rules for people whose relationship has ended sooner.

Step Two: What property do the partners own?

The Act only applies to property that the partners own either individually or jointly. It will not apply to property the partners use if someone else owns it.

Step Three: Is the partners’ property relationship property or separate property?

The Property (Relationships) Act 1976 classifies the partners’ property as either relationship property or separate property. The partners must share their relationship property but each partner keeps their separate property.

Step Four: In what shares should the relationship property be divided?

The Property (Relationships) Act 1976 has a general rule that each partner should get an equal share of the relationship property. In exceptional cases, courts can adjust the partners’ shares, but it is uncommon.

Step Five: Should a partner get more property?

Sometimes a partner should get more property. For example, after the partners separate one partner might keep paying the mortgage over their home. Or one partner may struggle to find a good job after separation because during the relationship the partner was the homemaker and now has little work experience.

Step Six: What is the value of the relationship property?

Before sharing the relationship property, the partners must work out the property’s value. Then they can calculate the money or property each partner gets.

Step Seven: How should the partners split the relationship property so each partner gets the right share?

The last step is for the partners to split their relationship property. Each partner might keep items of property up to their share. Or they might sell property and split the sale proceeds. Sometimes the court might order that the partners wait to split the property, or that one partner should get to use the property for a certain period. This can help when it is best for the children to keep living in the same house.

When one partner in the relationship dies, the process is different. The surviving partner can choose whether to accept whatever property the deceased partner gave under his or her will. Or the surviving partner can divide the couple’s relationship property by the same process as if both partners were alive but had separated.

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