As a relationship property lawyer, Kirsty often has to give client’s bad news about how their assets will be divided. This is often because they have unwittingly fallen into a relationship property trap. Kirsty recently acted for Natasha. Natasha is a 67-year-old woman. She had met and fallen in love with a musician, Julian, whilst in her early 60s. When Natasha met Julian she had a mortgage-free house in Auckland. Shortly after meeting Julian she received an inheritance following her mother’s death.
Natasha and Julian married. The night before their wedding they signed an agreement that stated that Natasha’s house in Auckland would remain her separate property. Shortly after their wedding, they decided to move to Te Awamutu. Natasha sold her house in Auckland and used the money to buy her dream home in Te Awamutu. Julian contributed no money to the purchase of the Te Awamutu house.
After they married neither Natasha nor Julian worked. They used the money from Natasha’s inheritance to supplement their lifestyle. Natasha bought a nice car for them to use.
When Natasha came to see me she and Julian had separated. She believed that she could rely on the agreement that she and Julian had written. I had to break the news to her that the agreement would not be enforceable as neither she nor Julian had received independent legal advice before signing the agreement. Natasha faced the prospect, at age 67 of having to pay Julian half the value of the house and the car that she had bought. She wasn’t able to get a mortgage and most of the money from her inheritance was gone.
Natasha had fallen into a relationship property trap. If you are in a relationship for more than 3 years then the home you live in will be relationship property and divided equally between you if you separate. You can sign an agreement so that the equal sharing provisions of relationship property law don’t apply BUT there are strict requirements that must be complied with otherwise your agreement won’t be enforceable.