Do I need a New Zealand lawyer for my divorce, relationship property and parenting issues when I’m living overseas?

The answer generally is yes, because you need a specialist lawyer who knows all about New Zealand law.  The purpose of this blog is to discuss the basics only.

1. Divorce

By divorce in this context, I’m referring to what is now called the dissolution of marriage.  Most people are able to fill out and undertake the divorce documentation themselves.  This is not an area in which lawyers in most cases need to be involved.  We encourage clients to work things out themselves. There are situations in which we need to handle the divorce.  These are where one party has an unknown address for example.  In that situation, we may need to apply for “substituted service” (service on another related person) or make further enquiries such as instructing a private investigator or making other related enquiries. In New Zealand the requirement to divorce is that you have to be separated for two years.  There are different requirements in other countries.  For example, in Australia, the requirement is you only need to be separated for one year.

2. Relationship property

When parties live in different countries, it is hard to sort out their financial affairs including any house by agreement. Any relationship property in New Zealand is determined under New Zealand law.  It is therefore, important to have an experienced New Zealand lawyer to assist you.

Tips in this area:

  • Real property in New Zealand (houses and land) can only be resolved by a New Zealand Family or High Court, not a foreign one.
  • There are practical issues including the valuation of any New Zealand property that a New Zealand based lawyer can guide you on.
  • Relationship property can be sorted out either by agreement or through the Family or High Court. If one party or more is overseas, in my experience there is a higher chance that the matter may end up in one of our Family or High Courts.

In these situations, there is often more distrust between the parties.  It is important that you have a lawyer who specialises in divorce and family when you have at least one party overseas.

  • Signing the relationship property agreement – in most cases in resolving the matter, you will need to sign a section 21A Relationship Property Agreement. Ideally you and your client should sign and witness at the same time.

When at least one party is overseas this causes some issues.  There are a number of options available to get over this potential hurdle.  We can advise you on this.   Download our Relationship Property Questionnaire to help get you started.

3. International Parenting / Custody Disputes

Under New Zealand Law, the Family Court can have jurisdiction in a case when there is only one of the mother, father or child that is living in New Zealand.   It is common for us to assist where one parent may have left New Zealand, with or without the child:

  • Acting for a party outside of New Zealand trying to maintain contact with their child.
  • Child abduction cases (“Haigh Convention”)
  • Habeus Corpus cases
  • Child relocation cases.

Early advice in these areas is essential.  It is likely these matters will end up in the Court, given it is hard to negotiate when people are not in the same country.

4. How do we communicate on these issues when our client is overseas?

We have a number of clients in the China, US, Europe and Australia.  We normally commence work by way of a Skype consultation for up to an hour.   After that Skype meeting, email is normally the best method.   We find the hardest thing is to get initial disclosure from the client particularly when they are overseas.  We normally send a relationship property questionnaire (attached) to assist the client in this process.


When people are living overseas, the Family Court normally gives them more time file and respond to documentation.   There are also options for clients to appear in Court cases by video link or Skype to ensure matters are completed in a timely way.



You should have confidence that if you are living overseas, you can resolve matters using a New Zealand divorce and divorce lawyer easily.  In my experience, the use of Skype in particular, makes things much easier.  You can arrange for a Skype appointment with me via our website for NZ$500 plus GST for one hour.


“The information posted on this website is prepared for a general audience, without investigation into the facts of any particular case. This information is no substitute for legal advice and does not create a lawyer-client relationship; you are advised to consult with a lawyer on any legal issue.”