Paul v Mead  NZHC 666
A recent case from the Auckland High Court has raised a novel new issue: whether the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 (“PRA”) applies to a “polyamorous relationship”? A polyamorous relationship is where a relationship exists between more than two people, which is consented to by the parties involved.
- L and B were married in 1993
- L and B formed a relationship with F and moved in with her at her property (“the property”) in 2002
- The parties continued living together until 2017
- After separation, L filed a claim for relationship property division, where L and B each sought a one third share of the property
The Court phrased the issue in two parts: whether there was jurisdiction under the PRA to determine property rights of three persons in a polyamorous relationship, either on the basis of that relationship or by dividing that relationship into separate parts.
The parties accepted that the PRA does not provide for polyamorous relationships. Hinton J made a similar conclusion, finding the wording in the PRA regarding “marriage”, “de facto relationship” and “civil union” all supposing the relationship was between two people. It was held that “coupledom” was the way Parliament intended the legislation be applied.
Alternatively, the parties argued that their three-way relationship should be broken down into contemporaneous relationships which are encompassed by the PRA ss 52A and 52B. L and B argued they were both in separate de facto relationships with F.
To answer this, the Court first considered the definition of de facto relationship in s 2D of the PRA, namely whether the parties “lived together as a couple”. It was found that as the parties were living as part of a threesome, this could not be held to be living together as a couple.
The Court then considered the scheme of ss 52A and 52B. It was held the plain language of the section does not suggest it could apply to three contemporaneous relationships. These sections were not intended to widen the scope of the PRA, but simply to allow for situations where two competing claims arise. Hinton J noted these sections have seldom seen success in New Zealand. It was also found that if s 52B was to be applied, it would lead to an impossible or materially different outcome than what was claimed.
The ultimate conclusion made by the Court was:
Not only does the [PRA] on its face not apply to a polyamorous relationship such as the parties’, but it would be unworkable to stretch the legislation to “fit” this case.
However, it was noted that the claimants can seek remedy in equity.
It is evident that at inception, the PRA was not drafted with provision for polyamorous relationships in mind. However, due to the dynamic nature of society, it is possible this issue will become increasingly relevant.