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New Zealand - Marriage and Divorce

In New Zealand there are two types of ceremony for marriage. One is a civil ceremony conducted by a registrar and the other type is a ceremony officiated by a ‘marriage celebrant’, which is normally a religious minister. A register office ceremony is limited to office hours but other ceremonies can be held at any time.

Before the ceremony an application must be made for a marriage licence at the local registry office. You will need to know at this stage exactly where and when you want the ceremony to take place. When you have completed the application form you will need to send it in with any supporting documentation that is necessary. For example, if you have been married before you may need to send in proof that the previous marriage was dissolved. The form does require that you state there is no lawful reason for you not to be married and you should do this in front of the Registrar. When the form has been sent in you will be able to collect the licence after three days. A marriage licence can only be used within the three month period after the date it was issued.

A fee is payable for the marriage licence at the time you make the application. If the fee is not paid then it can result in a delay in issue of the licence. The fees are slightly different for a licence for a registry office ceremony and another type of ceremony. With another type of ceremony the fees for the marriage celebrant is not included in the licence fee and you must pay these separately. You must give the name of the person who will be officiating at the ceremony before the licence will be issued. Fees can be paid by cheque, cash or debit or credit card. Fees paid by somebody outside New Zealand can be done so by bank cheque issued in NZ dollars.

Both the bride and groom must be at least 16 years of age. Under the age of 18 parental consent is required.

When a marriage does not work out some couples may choose to have a legal separation first. A couple can arrange a separation agreement between them or make an application to the courts for a separation order. These agreements will cover care of children, any division of property that is to be made and form an accurate record of the date that you separated. An agreement does not have to be written down and can simply be a verbal agreement. However, each partner should consult a lawyer if the agreement is intended to cover property division. It should be noted that an agreement such as this is not essential if you wish to divorce.

The only legal grounds for a divorce are irreconcilable differences. This is a no-blame divorce but in order for the divorce to be processed you must have been apart for a minimum of two years. This period cannot be shorter. The courts allow for a period of 3 months within that 2 year period for couples to get back together and attempt a reconciliation without it affecting the 2 year separation. This 3 months can be a number of attempts as long as the total amount of time spent together is no longer than this during the 2 year period. Couples can apply for the divorce jointly or independently.

In order to divorce in New Zealand at least one of the couple should be ‘domiciled’ there or have been born in the country. This just means that at the time of the divorce one of the couple should have their official home in the country. If you have married in New Zealand but neither of the couple is officially domiciled there then you cannot apply to be divorced there.

It is not necessary to go to court for the marriage to be dissolved as the case can be heard without either party appearing. However, if the application is a joint one and one party wants to attend the court then the other must do as well. A court appearance may be necessary only if one party is opposed to the idea of divorce.

In order to apply for a divorce you need to complete an application form, an affidavit and a sheet giving further information. Documents that will be required include a copy of the marriage certificate (translated into English if necessary). The divorce will not automatically decide on property division and you will need to enter into separate negotiations on this issue.

There is a fee to pay when filing for a divorce but if you are having financial difficulties you may apply to have the fee adjusted. Legal aid is not available for divorce proceedings.

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