Recognising Non-Conjugal Relationships in New Zealand: Should We Extend the Rights and Responsibilities of Marriage and Marriage-Like Relationships to Other Caring Relationships?
This thesis considers whether the legal recognition of non-conjugal relationships in New Zealand should be improved; particularly by extending them the rights and responsibilities of marital and marriage-like (conjugal) relationships. For the purpose of this thesis, “non-conjugal” relationships are close, caring platonic relationships where people share their lives to a significant degree. Over the last decade, there has been a trend toward extending the legal consequences of marriage to non-conjugal relationships in countries such as Australia, Canada and the United States. At the same time, the distinction between conjugal and non-conjugal relationships has been destabilised, due to the de-emphasis of sexual intimacy as a criterion for recognising marriage-like relationships. This thesis considers whether the marriage model should be extended to include certain non-conjugal relationships in New Zealand, as it has been overseas. It is clear that non-conjugal relationships can exhibit many of the features associated with conjugal relationships, as demonstrated by the high profile Burden sisters' case in the United Kingdom. These include characteristics such as long-term cohabitation, caring, commitment and interdependency. However, non-conjugal relationships typically exhibit these features to a lesser degree, which means that they may have different needs and require different support from the state. Ultimately, this thesis recommends against extending the marriage model to non-conjugal relationships for a number of reasons, including that the marriage model does not appear to respond adequately to the needs or living arrangements of people in non-conjugal relationships. However, this thesis also suggests that non-conjugal relationships in New Zealand can benefit from legal recognition in some cases. Aside from human rights considerations, the state has an interest in promoting these relationships due to their contribution to social cohesion and informal caregiving. As such, this thesis recommends a new framework for recognising personal relationships that also allows for nonconjugal relationships in New Zealand to be supported and promoted by the law, where appropriate.