Getting legal advice
Seeking independent legal advice can be worth doing.
The New Zealand Law Society website has free guides on a range of topics such as:
- Making a will and estate administration
- Powers of attorney
- Buying or selling property
- Living together
- What happens if a relationship breaks up
- Family trusts
If either you or your partner owns property (either together or individually), there is also relationship property law to think about. Find out how the law affects this on the Family Court website.
Protecting what we own and owe
When you've just met someone new, splitting up is usually the last thing on your mind. But everyone is subject to the Property (Relationships) Act after three years – earlier if you have children or one of you has made a significant contribution to the relationship, including a financial contribution or giving up work for the other.
Living together as a couple doesn’t necessarily mean in the same house all the time, so this law may apply sooner than you think.
Generally speaking, all ‘relationship property’ such as wages, savings, cars and other assets is split 50/50, unless you make your own property agreement.
Find out more about property agreements on the How to Law website.
Separate property vs relationship property
Things that are ‘separate property’ rather than ‘relationship property’ can include things you owned before your relationship, or that have come to you from outside the relationship, such as a gift or inheritance.
However, separate property can in some cases become relationship property.
For example, if one partner owned a house and the other partner then moved in, that house could become relationship property. Or in the case of combining savings from before the relationship with savings made from income earned during the relationship, the total savings could be counted as relationship property.
Any financial decisions you make now, even small ones such as buying something together on HP or guaranteeing someone else’s loan, could have unexpected consequences in the event of a break-up.
Those who already has a large amount of savings, or access to a family trust or an inheritance, may want to consider a property agreement to manage the risk of a relationship split affecting those family assets.
Talk to a lawyer or get free advice from a Community Law Centre.
When a relationship ends
What happens after a split, financially speaking, depends on the state of bills, savings, property and debts. It’s a good idea to keep track of debts and bills during the relationship so there are no surprises if things come to an end.
This includes knowing about all HPs, car loans, overdrafts, credit card or other debts each partner has entered into – as individuals or as a couple. You could be chased for repayments if your name is on any of these agreements or you agreed to be a guarantor.
If an ex-partner doesn't pay debts that are in both names or that you have guaranteed, it could also affect your credit history and make it difficult to borrow money or buy a house in the future.
Here are some ways you can protect your finances after a break-up:
- Get professional financial and legal advice
- Make sure your pay goes into your own bank account (not a joint one) and change password and PIN numbers your partner may know
- You may need to freeze or close every store card, account, loan or debt you’ve set up jointly, including ones where your partner only had authorised user rights.
- Be careful when closing accounts to check where automatic payments for HP, rent and other bills are coming from. You’ll be charged dishonour fees if these fail.
- Write everything money-related down in case there are disagreements later.
- Get any joint debts and agreements (such as a rental agreement) transferred to one name.
- Agree distribution of assets, including the name on the title of registered assets such as cars and houses.
- A few months after the break-up you should check your credit record. You can request a copy from each of the credit rating agencies – see Credit reports for details.
Here's some more information on separation and losing a partner.
Where to go for help