By Maria Hook (University of Otago)
Late last year, New Zealand signed the Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance (signed 23 November 2007, entered into force 1 January 2013, signed by New Zealand 26 November 2019). In theory, the decision to sign up to the Convention should not come as a surprise. The Convention’s Drafting Committee was chaired by a New Zealander (Justice Doogue), and the case for a multilateral approach to the recognition and enforcement of maintenance decisions is overwhelming. But given New Zealand’s track record at the Hague Conference on Private International Law, the news that it now intends to become a party to the 2007 Convention is cause for celebration. Under the current law, foreign orders for the periodic payment of maintenance are only enforceable in New Zealand if they are from Australia, or from another Commonwealth country, or from South Africa, California or Hong Kong (for the enforcement of accrued maintenance at common law, see Eilenberg v Gutierrez  NZCA 270,  NZFLR 471, Jack Wass  NZLJ 410). Under the 2007 Convention, on the other hand, there are broad grounds for the recognition and enforcement of foreign maintenance orders (see Chapter V). The Convention also establishes “a comprehensive system of co-operation between the authorities of the Contracting States” (see Art 1); and it facilitates the process of making applications for maintenance in other Convention countries, largely replacing the United Nations Convention for the Recovery of Maintenance Abroad (signed 20 June 1956, entered into force 25 May 1957), to which New Zealand is a party.
It will be interesting to follow New Zealand’s next steps in acceding to the Convention. There are a few question marks at this stage. In particular, it is not clear whether New Zealand will enter a declaration to extend Chapters II and III of the Convention, which provide for the cooperation of authorities and the transmission of applications, to spousal maintenance (as well as child support: see Art 2). It is also unclear whether New Zealand will extend the application of the Convention more generally to relationships not falling within the mandatory scope of the Convention (such as registered partnerships and de facto relationships) (see Art 2). In any case, implementation of the Convention will provide a valuable opportunity for reforming Part 8 of the Family Proceedings Act 1980 on overseas maintenance (or even the Act’s private international law rules more generally).