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When a relationship ends – especially later in life – it can entirely upend your money life. Separating couples often come out much worse off financially than if they’d stayed together, and this can particularly affect women, although men are not immune.  

That said, you can get through this with more fair of an outcome! Despite the separation process being emotionally, mentally and financially draining, there are some clear steps to take to come through it in the best shape possible with your wellbeing intact. 

 

How best to separate amicably, dividing what you own fairly?  

Our research shows couples going through a separation or divorce tend to: 

Take the time and the headspace now to consider your values carefully – not just what you value now, but what you will value in the future. Your long-term wellbeing is important, so use the steps in this guide and our tools as you make choices. 

In this guide

What the law says when you’re separating 

It’s important to understand your money and what you’re entitled to legally. The Property (Relationships) Act 1976 sets out the legal framework for dividing relationship property when a relationship ends.  

In most cases, the Act only covers ‘de facto’ couples who have lived together in a relationship for at least three years. 

But even if your relationship lasted for less than three years, you may still be covered by the Act if you have a child, or if you’ve made a substantial contribution to the relationship. 

Married couples and civil union partnerships are covered by the Act from the date of the marriage or civil union. If a marriage or civil union has lasted less than three years, different rules apply to the division of property. 

There’s more detail about relationship property on the Ministry of Justice website. 

These are all assets and debts acquired during the relationship. There are some exceptions, such as inheritances and gifts, as long as they are kept separate. Once they are intermingled, they become relationship property. 

Separate assets acquired (including gifts and inheritances) before the relationship generally remain with the original owner. 

The family home is subject to special considerations, treated differently from other relationship property. For example, it cannot be sold without the consent of both partners (or a court order). 

By law, relationship property is to be divided equally between the partners, regardless of who earned or received it during the relationship. 

The division can be adjusted based on the contributions of each partner. So if one partner made significant financial contributions to acquire a property, for example, they can receive a greater share of it. 

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Separating? Don’t give away your future

Make sure to keep your long-term aspirations and wellbeing in mind as you make decisions on who gets what today. 

Everyone wants a fair outcome, but it’s not always clear 

Especially here in Aotearoa, fairness is important. But when stakes are high, such as when your relationship ends, many things can seem fair when financially they are not.  

Strong emotions influence what seems fair – even financially uneven outcomes can seem fair when we get other things that we value instead. It’s easy to lose sight of the future and how these decisions will affect our wellbeing in retirement, for example.  

Not only that – our own perspective can change as to what’s fair, too. After going through the separation process, a third of men and women we surveyed perceived the outcome as unfair. 

What to do? Getting supportive, professional financial advice can make a huge difference to your future. 

 

The difference between equal and equitable 

There’s the saying, “Equality is giving everyone the same pair of shoes; equity is giving everyone a pair of shoes that fits.” 

Dividing what you own equally 

Partners dividing their relationship property equally would simply sell all assets and divide the proceeds between them so each gets exactly the same amount.  

Dividing what you own equitably 

Partners dividing assets equitably take into account each individual’s circumstances, including what they value, and the situation it leaves them in for their long-term future. 

Seeking professional financial advice isn't a sign of distrust  

It’s important to get the right support for you. Separating and dividing up assets is an exhausting process – going through it can be financially, emotionally and mentally draining. 

It’s natural to want to resolve everything as quickly as possible and find closure at all costs. But you may find that you end up with an outcome that seems unfair further down the track. 

You may also feel like avoiding a money conflict as a gesture of goodwill, but this can also lead to unfair outcomes if not considered carefully. 

So getting advice on important decisions ensures you are not overly driven by emotions. 

 

Make sure to include KiwiSaver in your relationship property 

Although like many, you may think of KiwiSaver as linked to your and your partner’s personal work, it’s important to include your KiwiSaver accounts when you are dividing things up fairly. People tend to overlook this, but KiwiSaver should be treated the same as any other investments or assets and be part of the conversation. 

Remember that KiwiSaver is an investment, an appreciating asset that is growing in value over time. 

When you are dividing up KiwiSaver, investment units are being sold at their value on that given day. If one partner gets paid out from KiwiSaver, it may not end up being invested and growing for the future. It may be simply put into something (like a car) that loses value. This is important to consider. 

 

The difference between assets that grow in value... and those that don’t 

Taking everything you own and dividing it up as if it were all worth the same now and in the future? Doing this can wind you up in very different financial positions in the long run. 

Depreciating assets 

A car or a boat is a depreciating asset. It loses value over time. 

 

Appreciating assets 

Assets like a property or your KiwiSaver typically grow in value over time. 

Top tips for handling money matters when your relationship ends 

1
Stay organised – keep track of money and everything you both own. 

Being ready now can save you stress (and money) later.  

Well-organised records of assets, financial documents and agreements help prevent misunderstandings and disputes, and keep the process as smooth as possible. 

2
Shop around for a good lawyer and financial adviser that you can trust.  

 

They need to be able to help you keep your long-term wellbeing in mind when negotiating.  

A good lawyer understands the importance of achieving a balanced and equitable settlement. 

A financial adviser should help you consider the long-term financial implications of your decisions. 

3
Understand your finances and legal entitlements fully.  

This will help you face challenges and make informed decisions about how to divide what you own.

4
Don’t forget to take care of yourself in these emotionally charged times. 

Your wellbeing is a priority. Since separating and dividing up assets is exhausting, give yourself permission to treat yourself well while you’re going through it.  

5
Keep your support people around you – whānau, friends or a support group.  

They can help you stay unbiased, see the bigger picture and make sound choices. 

6
Stay calm, even when it’s hard.

Keeping a level head throughout the process helps with making better decisions. 

7
Talk openly with your former partner – try not to focus on past hurt.  

Take time to kōrero. Communication is essential to understanding each other’s values and needs fully.  

Open and honest discussions can lead to mutually beneficial agreements, and minimise any conflict or misunderstandings. 

8
Focus on hauora – comprehensive wellbeing for you, your former partner, your whānau.  

This principle helps with negotiation beyond just money. Hold a strong vision for you and your whānau in your heart. 

9
Make sure to express your needs, concerns and priorities.  

This leads to constructive negotiating. Don’t let the stress of the situation make you lose sight of what is most important to you now, and what will be important to you in the future. 

Your financial choices today will affect your immediate needs – as well as your long-term aspirations. 

10
Work out child support arrangements. 

Constructively working towards fairer solutions benefits everyone, especially children. To find out about child support payments and how they work, see the Inland Revenue website

11
Update your will and insurances.

After a relationship break-up you may need to update your will – particularly if you want to change any references to your ex-partner. Unless there is a separation order in place through the family court, your estranged spouse or civil union partner could still benefit under your will, if you don’t change it, or if you were to die without a will. 

Your insurance policies may also need updating, especially life insurance if you have children. 

12
Look forward to your future.

If you stepped away from your career to be a primary caregiver at home, help yourself prepare for re-entering the workforce with family support and career coaching. 

 

Here’s where to go for help 

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Make time to set your long-term goals

Don’t let the short-term stress of separation overtake your long-term vision for your life and your retirement. Our goal planner can help you set some sights for your future.

Try the goal planner

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