New Zealanders want the equal division of property after a breakup to be reconsidered in cases where a person has sacrificed their career to raise children or brought the family home into a relationship, new research shows.
While most people generally support the existing law which requires a 50-50 split of assets, a strong majority also believe it would be fairer to depart from the rule in certain situations.
The University of Otago research also showed poor understanding of some property relationship laws - including a "concerning" number of New Zealanders who had made informal pre-nuptial agreements about property without realising that they were not legally binding.
It was released ahead of the Law Commission's report on New Zealand's 40 year-old relationship property laws, which is coming out next week.
University of Otago Associate Professor Nicola Taylor, from the Sociology, Gender, and Social Work department, said there had been dramatic social and demographic changes in New Zealand since the original law was passed - in particular people marrying or having relationships later in life.
That meant the existing law no longer matched up with New Zealanders' ideas of fairness, she said.
"There was high awareness and strong support for the equal sharing law," Taylor said. "But when we got people to consider different scenarios, they were quite willing to depart from the idea of equal sharing."
In a scientific survey of 1400 people, 72 per cent agreed that a person who paid an entire house deposit should get it back after a break-up rather than split it.
And 60 per cent said a person who gave up their job to raise children should get a better deal.
"There was a feeling that … the person should benefit a little more because of the sacrifice they've made by receiving a slice of the partner's future earnings or some greater division of the relationship property," Taylor said.
Separate research by Victoria University has found that women - who were more likely to take on primary responsibility for children - fared worse after a breakup. Women's incomes were on average 19 per cent lower while men's incomes were 15.5 per cent higher.
A more discretionary approach to dividing assets is used in Australia, where the primary caregiver can get between 5 to 20 per cent more than their partner.
The Law Commission has previously said that it is reluctant to change the even split of assets after a breakup, because it would make the process less predictable and lead to more court action and higher costs.
One of the Otago survey's other key findings was the lack of awareness about some key parts of the law.
Fewer than half of people knew that the law applied to couples who had lived together for three years or longer. And around 5 per cent of respondents had used informal pre-nuptial agreements to opt out of equal sharing rules in the event of a break-up.
"We're not sure that couples appreciate that, for their agreement to be binding under the law, each partner requires independent legal advice and a certified agreement," Taylor said.
Should a person who sacrificed their career to raise children get additional financial support after a separation?
• 35% - definitely should
• 25% - probably should
• 23% - probably should not
• 13% - definitely should not
• 3% - it depends
(Colmar-Brunton survey of 1361 people)