Relationship Property Law

Key Issues

Does the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 apply? 
Generally, couples must have been living together for 3 years for the Act to apply, although this timeframe can be reduced where there is a child or other special circumstances.

Which assets are relationship property?
In the usual course, the family home, chattels, cars, holiday homes, businesses and any other property acquired during the relationship are relationship property.  Separate property is usually property owned prior to the relationship (other than the family home) or assets received by gift or by inheritance. 

What about increases in the value of separate property? 
An Increase in the value of separate property assets can become relationship property if it is due in part to financial or non-financial contributions made by either or both parties during the relationship.

What are the assets worth? 
The valuation of assets is often contentious, particularly in respect of business assets.  It is usually necessary to engage a forensic accountant to assist with this.

Are trusts or companies involved?
The law requires full disclosure of all relevant information relating to trusts and/or companies.  Remedies are available if assets have been transferred and/or otherwise disposed of to trusts or companies during the course of the relationship.

What about “trust busting?”
In some circumstances, the court is able to compensate a party who has been disadvantaged by a trust or company structure by ordering the payment of money or transfer of an asset from either relationship or separate property, or by ordering trustees to make a payment from trust income.

Can couples ‘contract out’ of the Act?
Couples can contract out of the Act at any time before, during or after the relationship by reaching their own agreement as to the division of property.  The agreement must be in writing and certified by two independent lawyers. In rare circumstances agreements can be overturned by the court.

Economic Disparity

The law provides for compensation to be paid to a party if there is economic disparity between the parties arising on separation, due to the division of functions during the relationship.

And the children?
The interests of children under 18 must be taken into account before any agreement or consent order can be made in respect of relationship property.  The court has power to make an ‘occupation order', ‘maintenance order’ and/or postpone the division of assets if this would cause undue financial hardship to either party or the children.

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