Matrimonial and de Facto Property Law Reform

  • Doug Graham

The Minister of Justice, Hon D.A.M. Graham, today introduced two Bills dealing with property following the breakdown of marriages and de facto relationships.

The Matrimonial Property Amendment Bill updates the 1976 Act which has not been significantly reformed since its enactment more than 20 years ago.

The Bill extends the basic division rules of the 1976 Act to provide that on the death of one spouse, the surviving spouse would be entitled to the same share of the matrimonial property as would have applied had the marriage broken down.

Other changes include the treatment of heirlooms and taonga, greater powers for the Courts where minor dependent children are involved and better protection where matrimonial property has been disposed of to a trust or company.

The De Facto Relationships (Property) Bill introduces a property regime to apply on the breakdown of a de facto relationship.

'There is currently no statutory regime for the division of property when such relationships end,' Mr Graham said.

'When property disputes arise, the parties must rely on the general law which can be inadequate to meet the needs of de facto couples.'

The proposed statutory property regime for de facto relationships includes a presumption of equal sharing of the family home and chattels. The division of other relationship property will reflect both financial and non-financial contributions - unlike the Matrimonial Property Act where there is a presumption of equal sharing.

The regime will generally only apply to relationships of more than three years duration and, as with the proposed amendments to the marriage regime, it will apply where one partner dies.

The de facto regime will only apply to relationships in the nature of marriage between a man and a woman.

NB: A chart comparing the provisions of the Matrimonial Property Act (as amended by the Amendment Bill) and the De Facto Relationships (Property) Bill is attached. Amendments to the definition of 'matrimonial property' are also attached.