Many relationships in New Zealand have a link to another country. Sometimes the partners have property overseas. Or sometimes the partners have come from another country, or the partners might spend some of their time living overseas. These situations can give rise to what we call cross-border issues.
When a couple separate and there is a cross-border issue, should the courts in New Zealand apply the Property (Relationships) Act 1976?
The Property (Relationships) Act 1976 has rules that determine when it will apply. They focus on whether the couple’s property is immovable (such as a house or land) or other property (known as movable property). The rules say that Property (Relationships) Act 1976 will apply to:
- any immovable property in New Zealand;
- any movable property in New Zealand;
- any movable property overseas if one partner is usually resident in New Zealand.
Importantly, the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 will not apply to any immovable property located overseas.
These rules can be difficult to apply. Sometimes the rules may mean that the New Zealand courts cannot deal with all the partners’ property under New Zealand law.
The Property (Relationships) Act 1976 also allows couples to agree which country’s law will govern their property division if they separate. They can agree that the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 will apply. Or they can agree that the law of a different country will apply, but only if the agreement complies with certain rules.
Again, these rules can be difficult to apply and cause problems for some people.