In a judgment released yesterday the Supreme Court in Scott v Williams [2019] NZSC 80 [25 July 2019], dismissed an application by Ms Scott for an extension of time for applying for leave to appeal against two earlier costs judgments.

There is nothing particularly exceptional about the leave to appeal proceedings, but what is of note and what should be of concern to any party to a relationship property dispute is that this dispute has been ongoing for ten years.

Proceedings were first filed in April 2009.

In 2014, Judge McHardy in the Family Court determined that Mr Williams should pay Ms Scott $850,000 under s 15 of the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 (the PRA). The family home and associated section in Remuera were vested in Ms Scott.

In 2016, in the High Court, Faire J largely allowed an appeal by Mr Williams overturning the vesting order and reducing the s15 award to $280,000.

In 2016, the Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal by Ms Scott against Faire J’s decision, except for increasing the quantum of compensation payable under s 15 of the PRA to $470,000.

On appeal from the Court of Appeal’s decision, the Supreme Court restored the vesting order made by Judge McHardy and the amount of the s 15 award in favour of Ms Scott was increased to $520,000.

For ten tortuous years no doubt, these parties whose details, dealings and financial positions will have been subjected to a high degree of scrutiny have been trapped in a nightmare that must have impacted on and affected their personal lives and sensibilities, not to mention their finances as no dispute resolution process comes without cost, none the least High Court and Court of Appeal litigation.

Just this week Justice Minister Andrew Little tabled the Law Commission’s final report on its review of the PRA which sets out how relationship property should be divided when a relationship ends by separation or death.

The report notes that one of the principles of the PRA is that matters should be resolved as inexpensively, simply, and speedily as is consistent with justice. This means that division of property at the end of a relationship should be just and the process for achieving that should be efficient. While there is a paucity of hard data, the research and the submissions received by the Law Commission indicated that the vast majority of relationship property matters are resolved out of court and that generally, out of court resolution is quicker and less expensive than court-based resolution and can result in more enduring and satisfactory outcomes for separating partners and their children.

This has certainly been our experience in terms of our Family Law mediation, arbitration and arb-med services and therefore it is not surprising that the Law Commission’s recommendations are largely focused on encouraging partners to resolve their relationship property matters out of court whenever appropriate.

The FDR Centre provides a highly respected well established specialist private dispute resolution service for parties wanting to resolve disputes concerning relationship property and the division of assets on separation that is robust and certain, yet innovative in its commonsense approach to resolving these challenging types of disputes promptly and privately and cost effectively: find out more here.

Don’t become the next relationship property litigation statistic or ‘identity’. If you are a party to a relationship property dispute, irrespective of the value, talk to your lawyer about using the FDR Centre’s Family Law services today. We deal with disputes involving relationship property involving sums in dispute ranging from just a few thousand dollars to tens of millions providing fixed fee services for low value disputes (under $50K) and capped fees for all other services.

Contact us to find out how we can help you or your clients today.


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