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Marriage, Civil Unions & De Facto Relationships

Marriage, Civil Unions & De Facto Relationships

Marriage, civil unions, and de facto relationships are legal ways of describing different types of relationships that are more formal than that of a girlfriend/boyfriend relationship. If you are in a marriage or civil union, or have been in a de facto relationship for more than three years, nearly everything either of you owns becomes relationship property. If you separate, the starting point under the law is that relationship property and debts are shared equally.

When can I get engaged?

Being engaged does not legally change your relationship. That means you can get engaged to anyone at any age.

When can I get married?

You can get married once you are 18, or 16-17 with your parents’ permission. In New Zealand, you can choose to marry someone of a different sex or the same sex.

What do I legally need to do before getting married?

First, you need to fill out a Notice of Intended Marriage form and send it to the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages at the Department of Internal Affairs (there is a fee). You will need to tell the Registrar when and where you’re going to get married and who is going to perform the marriage ceremony. You will need a marriage celebrant or a registry office.

You must prove that you’re at least 18, or at least 16 with your parent’s/parents’ permission. You also must prove that you’re not related to each other. The Registrar will then issue you a marriage licence in at least three days that you will need to sign when you get married. Your marriage celebrant will need the licence and two copies of the Copy of Particulars to marry you.

What do I need to do during the marriage ceremony?

In the marriage ceremony, you have to say that you agree to take the other person as your husband or wife, in front of a marriage celebrant and at least 2 witnesses. You and your new spouse, the celebrant and two witnesses must sign the marriage licence. Some people change their last name to their spouse’s when they get married, there is no requirement to do so.



What is my responsibility if I want to marry someone who needs support?

If you’re married to someone who needs support, you must look after them. It’s your responsibility to pay for their living costs if they can’t afford it. This responsibility is called “maintenance” and can continue after you separate. Being married will likely effect who is entitled to your personal property if you break up or if one of you dies.

What’s the difference between marriage and civil union?

A civil union is legally very similar to a marriage. There is a lot of uncertainty about whether those in a civil union can adopt a child. If you and your partner are considering adoption, you may want to consider whether marriage will be a better option for you.

Either you or your civil union partner could adopt as an individual, though, if the requirements are met.

You can change your marriage to a civil union, or your civil union to a marriage, by filling out a form at the Department of Internal Affairs and paying a fee.

What’s a de facto relationship?

You’re in a de facto relationship if you’re in a relationship with someone and living together as a couple, but aren’t married or in a civil union with them. Whether or not you’re ‘living together as a couple’ depends on lots of factors, including your living arrangement, sexual relationship, whether you have children, how much you share your money, household chores, and other factors. You can start a de facto relationship by moving in with someone if you’re at least 18.

If you’re in a de facto relationship for more than three years and then separate, the starting point is that your relationship property will be divided equally.

When can I move in with someone?

Unless your parents agree, you cannot move in with someone until you turn 16.

If you want to move in with someone, the Ministry for Children – Oranga Tamariki could become involved if your parents or the police think there would be a risk to your safety and you’re under 17. They could send you home to live with your parents, or send you somewhere else where they think you’ll be safe.

It’s unusual for Oranga Tamariki to become involved in a situation where the person is 16 or older. You should make sure you have made appropriate arrangements to leave home before moving out.


What is relationship property?

Relationship property is all the property that has been obtained by at least one of the partners during the relationship.. It could also be property that is used by both partners during a relationship. All relationship property must be divided between the partners when their relationship ends.
Relationship property will usually include:

  • the family home and chattels (e.g. the family car, any household furniture)
  • any property obtained by either partner before the relationship, intended for the common use or benefit of both partners
  • property owned jointly or in equal shares by the partners
  • property obtained by either partner during the relationship (except for gifts and inheritances that have bee kept separate)
  • income earned during the relationship
  • the portion of superannuation (including KiwiSaver) that has been contributed during the relationship
  • insurance on the partners’ relationship property
  • insurance on the partner’s lives, which has built up during the relationship
  • gifts or inheritances which have become mixed relationship property
  • property which both partners agree is relationship property
  • increases in the value of relationship property, income from it, or money from the sale of it where the increase is due to relationship property or the partner’s contributions
  • joint debt.

What is not relationship property?

If you get married or enter a civil union, or if you’ve been in a de facto relationship for at least three years, then almost all of your property becomes ‘relationship property’. In some de facto relationships, this can happen before you’ve been together for three years; for example, if you have children together or if one partner has made substantial contributions to the relationship and it would cause serious injustice if they were not covered.

All relationship property is legally shared property. This means that if you and your partner break up, any relationship property will likely need to be shared equally between you.

Separate property is all property that is not relationship property; it generally stays with the person who owns it. It is property kept separate from the relationship during the marriage, civil union or de facto relationship.

Examples of this are:

  • Property bought by either spouse or partner while they were not living together.
  • Income that is earned from separate property.
  • Any increase in the value of separate property.
  • Family heirlooms.
  • Gifts and inherited property, unless it has been mixed with relationship property.

Working out how relationship property should be divided can be complex as it also includes debts. You should always seek advice from a lawyer before agreeing to a division of relationship property.

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