New Zealand Herald

Wednesday, May 24 2000

Bill labelled gold digger's charter

25.05.2000 - By AUDREY YOUNG political reporter
New Zealand Herald

Changes to matrimonial property law may overturn the traditional 50:50 property split in marriage breakups to compensate women for missing out on careers while raising children.

The National Party has slammed the Matrimonial Property Amendment Bill as a "gold digger's charter."

It says the legislation has the potential to clog the courts, blow the legal aid budget and destroy the institution of marriage through its abandonment of terms such as "husband" and "wife."

Judges will have discretion to move away from the present 50:50 split, clean-break principle to redress income gaps seen to have been created within the relationship.

It may be that 60:40 or 75:25 will be considered an equitable split, or a lump-sum from a split plus maintenance if a judge deems, for example, that a mother's career prospects and earning potential have been restricted by child-rearing.

"The proposals are invitations to judges to make these rulings," says National's justice spokesman, Tony Ryall. "If this is passed, we would have such a huge level of judicial discretion that every lawyer would have to advise their client to take the case to court.

"That is going to be expensive for everyone involved and is going to make the process a lot nastier."

It could clog the courts and put the legal aid budget under big pressure. At present, 90 per cent of breakups did not go to court because the rules were reasonably certain.

But Green [and radical feminist] MP Sue Kedgley said the bill would give redress to the parents, mainly women, who "devote years to unpaid fulltime parenting of their children" who were disadvantaged under the present act.

Attorney-General Margaret Wilson told Parliament yesterday that the measures "provide a remedy for that injustice."

She noted that 60 per cent of the submissions on the bill's first visit to a select committee sought such a remedy.

The better-known provisions of the amendment bill - to be renamed the Property Relationships Act - are those that extend property rights to de facto and same-sex couples after three years.

But the changes giving judges new discretionary powers have been proposed since the bill left the scrutiny of a select committee.

National, Act, United, New Zealand First and the Greens succeeded yesterday in pressing for its return to a select committee.

At a press conference, Mr Ryall's colleague Doug Kidd said: "What we have here is a bill that promotes conflict and is a gold digger's charter."

Act MP Stephen Franks agreed, saying the antics of Hollywood gold diggers would not be so funny when they hit New Zealand.

NZ First MP Brian Donnelly believed that the deletion of the terms "matrimony," "husband," "wife" and "spouse" in favour of the term "partner" would erode the institution of marriage.

Ms Wilson said that was not her intent.

The bill will be referred to the justice and electoral select committee tomorrow.

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