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  5. De facto relationships among particular groups

De facto relationships among particular groups

De facto relationships can take many forms. We want to know if the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 applies properly to different forms of de facto relationships.

We discuss some relationships in more detail in our Issues Paper (Part B). And we also look at other relationships, like people who are in two or more relationships at the same time.

1. Māori customary marriages

Learn more about Māori customary marriages here.

2. Relationships involving young people

The Property (Relationships) Act 1976 applies only to de facto relationships where the partners are aged 18 or over.

That means if a de facto relationship ends before the youngest partner turns 21, the relationship will not have lasted for three years and consequently the main rules about property division in the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 will not apply. Instead, the special rules that apply to short-term relationships may apply. Even then, the court can only make a property division order if the youngest partner has turned 18 before the relationship ends, and if there would be serious injustice if the court made no order.

Some young people may be disadvantaged.

Samara and Marcus
Samara (16) begins a relationship with Marcus (25) that would be a de facto relationship under the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 if Samara was 18. They have a child, Asha, who is born when Samara is 18. The relationship lasts for four years, ending when Samara is 20. But for the age limit, this would be long enough for the Property (Relationships) Act 1976’s general rule of equal sharing to automatically apply. However, due to the age limit, the de facto relationship only started when Samara turned 18. When the relationship ended Samara was 20, making the relationship a short-term de facto relationship. Either Samara or Marcus must therefore satisfy the court that failure to make an order under the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 for the division of relationship property would cause serious injustice. If they can establish serious injustice, the court will divide the relationship property according to each partner’s contribution to the relationship.

The age restriction in the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 is different to the definition of de facto relationships in other legislation. It is also inconsistent with the legal age at which people can marry or enter a civil union (18 years, or 16 or 17 years with consent of specified individuals such as guardians).

However, some young people may drift into a de facto relationship without realising the legal consequences of their relationship. And young people are less likely to have lots of property to divide.

What do you think?

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3. Relationships with and between members of the LGBTQI+ Community


The Property (Relationships) Act 1976 defines a de facto relationship as two people that live together as a couple. The definition also lists specific matters that indicate whether the partners live together as a couple.

The definition of a de facto relationship applies to same-sex couples. The same definition and the same criteria apply whether the couple are in a heterosexual relationship or otherwise.

We want to know whether the Act’s definition of de facto relationships reflects the way relationships work with and between members of the LGBTQI+ community. Some relationships may differ from traditional forms and norms. The matters that indicate a relationship in the Act’s definition may reflect heteronormative assumptions about relationships.

For example, one matter that indicates whether people are in a de facto relationship under the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 is whether the partners present as a couple in public. Some people in the LGBTQI+ community may be reluctant to disclose their sexuality to their friends and family.

What do you think?

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