In New Zealand, dissolution of a marriage or civil union (divorce), division of a separating couple’s relationship property and care arrangements for the children of the relationship are three distinct issues, and have separate and distinct processes.
New Zealand has both marriage and civil unions, which are open to both same and opposite sex couples, and are in all legal respects treated the same. In addition, laws relating to the division of relationship property on a couple’s separation apply equally to same and opposite sex relationships, and both married and unmarried (de facto) relationships, except in limited circumstances. In relation to children, both birth parents are guardians of a child in almost all circumstances and have the same legal rights and responsibilities, regardless of the age or gender of the child (or parent) or the legal status of the parent’s relationship.
This article concerns the process for divorce in New Zealand.
To apply for a dissolution of marriage (divorce) in New Zealand, one or both parties must be “domiciled” in New Zealand- that is either having been born in New Zealand and not living in another country indefinitely, or born in another country but now residing in New Zealand indefinitely. Working overseas on a long term contract does not disqualify a person from applying, provided that the person continues to be domiciled in New Zealand.
The marriage does not need to have taken place in New Zealand for the New Zealand Court to dissolve it.
New Zealand is a “no fault” jurisdiction for dissolution, and so the only requirement for a dissolution is that the parties have been separated for two years prior to the application. This requirement is absolute and there are no means to reduce that time.
An application can be made either by both parties jointly, or by one party. The applications are by way of a standard form (which can be found on the New Zealand Ministry of Justice website). The form is designed to be completed without the assistance of a lawyer, although parties can have legal representation if they wish.
There is no need to attend Court unless a party specifically wishes to (which is unusual). If the parties apply jointly and there are no errors in the application, the dissolution takes effect one month after the Registrar of the Court approves it. If one party applies, the application must be served on the other party and they are given a period of time to respond (21 days if they are in New Zealand, 30 days if they are in Australia, and 50 days for the rest of the world). If the application is not defended, the Registrar will consider the application at the end of that period and the dissolution will take effect one month after that. If they have elected to appear in Court or the application is defended, the Registrar will assign a date for the matter to be heard in front of a Judge.
If there are minor children (under 16 years of age), then the parties will have to satisfy the court in the application that arrangements have been made for their care, or if not, that there are good reasons why not (for example that parenting matters are progressing through the Family Court). These do not have to be final arrangements, and they are not recorded on the dissolution order, but the Family Court has a duty to ensure that the welfare and best interests of children involved in any proceedings brought before it are protected, and so must be assured that they have been considered.