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Separating from your spouse or partner

You don't have to do anything official when you separate from your partner, but a separation agreement or separation order can help to keep things clear.

When you separate from your partner, you can make a separation agreement, or apply to the Family Court for a Separation Order if you want to.

These help to make sure you’re both clear about the details of your separation, especially if you have children, joint finances or property together.

Separation agreements and orders

Separation agreements

A separation agreement is the best option for most people who have children or property together. You can make the agreement yourselves, in writing or verbally (it has to be written if it includes information about property you share). It should include the date you agreed to separate.

If it deals with shared property:

  • you both have to get independent legal advice
  • it must be in writing and signed by both of you
  • your signatures must be witnessed by a lawyer
  • the lawyer who witnesses your signature must certify that they’ve explained to you the implications of the agreement.

You can choose to register the agreement in the Family Court as a ‘consent order’. This makes it legally enforceable, like a court order.

If you cannot agree on your children’s care, you can ask the family justice system for help to work out custody arrangements.

Child custody

Separation orders

You only need a separation order if one of you does not want to separate, though you can choose to apply for one together if you both agree.

If you want to separate and your partner does not, you need to file an application with the Family Court. Your partner can then choose whether or not to defend the application. If they do, you’ll both have to attend a hearing in front of a judge at the Family Court.

Separation orders when you do not agree

If your partner has applied for a separation order and you do not want to separate, you can choose to defend the application. You usually have to do this within 21 days if you’re in New Zealand, 30 days if you’re in Australia, or 50 days if you live somewhere else.

Responding to a separation order application

Splitting shared property

If you’ve been married, had a civil union, or lived together for more than 3 years, any property you and your partner own will be shared equally between you.

Relationship property generally covers things that have financial value (such as insurance payouts, superannuation) and debts.

Dividing relationship property

Citizens Advice Bureau will give you free legal advice if you’re having problems dividing your property.

Get free advice from Citizens Advice Bureau

If you’re getting NZ Super or a Veteran’s Pension as a couple, you may be able to get it paid at a slightly higher ‘single, living alone’ rate once you’ve separated.

Living alone on NZ Super or the Veteran’s Pension

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