''The law is an ass,'' declared a member of the audience at
the Rural Women New Zealand midwinter seminar in Fairlie.
Her comment was among the plentiful feedback for speakers at
the 17th annual seminar organised by South Canterbury RWNZ.
The event has become renowned for presenting high-calibre
speakers on topical subjects.
Dozens of women gathered at the Mackenzie Community Centre on
June 19 to hear about ''Women and the law''.
South Canterbury RWNZ president Margaret Chapman said it was
14 years since a law seminar was held, and the subject was
frequently requested by attendees when asked for ideas.
The morning speakers were RSM Law representatives Julia
Traylor, Jan Birt and Greta Keenan, updating topics including
succession planning, trusts, wills, enduring powers of
attorney, gifting, residential care subsidies, relationship
property, and custody and day-to-day child care after a
The audience asked many questions about farm ownership and
succession, seeking detailed information about how trusts
Ms Traylor emphasised the importance of having an up-to-date
will that was correctly signed and witnessed. It
automatically revoked any previous will.
Gifting funds to family members and its effect on means
testing for residential care subsidies was a complex subject
that also drew plenty of questions and comments.
Ms Birt said there were 30,000 New Zealanders in long-term
residential care. If people knew when they would need to go
into care, it would be easier to plan when to gift funds; but
because most had little idea in advance, it could be
difficult to ensure they were eligible for the subsidy.
The thresholds were adjusted on July 1 each year, based on
the Consumer Price Index.
''You need to be vigilant - watch what you give away,'' Ms
''You can't be seen to be depriving yourself of assets or
income that would have been able to go towards your care, and
therefore put yourself at advantage over others needing
Ms Keenan outlined the issues of child care for couples who
had separated, saying 90% worked out their own arrangements
without court intervention.
The court was ''quite supportive'' of grandparents and others
who wanted to maintain contact with the children, she said.
The parent with day-to-day care must consult with the other
parent on issues such as the child's name, place of
residence, medical treatment, education, religion, culture
The Christchurch earthquakes caused major problems with
places of residence, Ms Keenan said, but the most common
reasons for relocation were employment and family.
When it came to dividing property after a relationship split,
debt was now included, along with contributions to Kiwisaver.
The latter ''can be a big issue'', Ms Keenan said.
The afternoon speaker, University of Otago law lecturer Simon
Connell, explained a fairly recent shift in how the court
interpreted contracts. In the past it had been very literal,
along the lines of the famous ''pound of flesh'' debate in
Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice.
Now, it tended to ''give the contract a meaning that has
commercial sense'', Mr Connell said. That was on the basis
that most parties would reach deals that were mutually
beneficial, not very one-sided.
He then discussed the idea that pregnancy could be considered
an accident, with the pregnant woman eligible to claim
compensation under ACC. The cases that had gone to court
related to failed sterilisation operations.
Mrs Chapman concluded the day by saying the seminar had
served its purpose: ''to inform, to challenge, to
- Sally Brooker