Deborah is one of the leading trust litigation and relationship property lawyers in New Zealand. She specialises in equity litigation, including fiduciary relationships and obligations. She originally practiced in general civil litigation and in the criminal law field as a prosecutor but since 1996 has specialised in relationship property law, trusts, estates and fiduciary duties. Her work in this area includes complex cases frequently involving international property. The following article provides insight into how trusts are targeted as part of relationship property; https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/the-broken-divorce-system-that-sets-kiwi-couples-up-for-a-fight-to-the-death/5MJP55YBGJ5ELVZPJ2LWXYVBGE/


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Bio

Deborah is one of the leading trust litigation and relationship property lawyers in New Zealand. She specialises in equity litigation, including fiduciary relationships and obligations.

She originally practised in general civil litigation and in the criminal law field as a prosecutor but since 1996 has specialised in relationship property law, trusts, estates and fiduciary duties. Her work in this area includes complex cases frequently involving international property.

Deborah was admitted to the bar in 1983 and commenced practice as a barrister sole in 1989. She was made QC in 2007. Prior to that she was with Russell McVeagh, Auckland; a Procurator Fiscal Depute in Glasgow; Meredith Connell; and Butler White and Hanna.

Her litigation experience includes frequent appearances in the Family Court, High Court, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. Deborah is also experienced at representing clients in mediations.

In 2022 Deborah was ranked as the high net worth barrister at the New Zealand Bar in regard to the handling of relationship property and trust litigation matters generally and of high profile divorce cases in particular. She held that position at both the Global and Asia-Pacific Chambers and Partners Guide with the Guide spotlighting her achievements as including multi-jurisdictional aspects and attracting “especially favourable notice”.

The Chambers and Partners Guide noted that interviewees widely acknowledge her to be a preeminent practitioner in her field, one source unhesitatingly calling her “the very top relationship property lawyer in the country” and adding, “she is a fearless advocate, unflinching in her dedication to advancing her client’s case.”

In March 2022 Deborah was listed as the leading family and relationship property law Senior Counsel in Doyles Guide

Deborah has consistently been placed on the power list of New Zealand’s lawyers. Most recently as the 34th most powerful lawyer in the country and the only female QC in private practice to be listed in the 2021 power list and named as the “Divorce Trust Diva.”

See Deborah's Wikipedia page.

Case Highlights

Clayton v Clayton [2016] NZSC 29, [2016] NZFLR 230, and Clayton v Clayton [2016] NZSC 30, [2016] NZFLR 189. Deborah appeared in the Supreme Court representing Mrs Clayton in this landmark case which resulted in two judgments. This case involved a large number of family trusts created during the course of a long marriage.

The complexity is reflected in the fact that the hearing took three full days of hearing time before the Supreme Court. Commentators have referred to this case as “rewriting the legal landscape” in regard to relationship property and trusts. Mrs Clayton, with Deborah’s advocacy, was successful in regard to all of her major claims. SC 38 2015 – Clayton v Clayton (substantive)


Clayton v Clayton [2015] NZCA 30. Deborah also appeared for Mrs Clayton in the Court of Appeal. The issues included company valuation issues in regard to a substantial saw milling business as well as the operation of the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 in regard to trusts formed during a marriage. Subsequently, the husband sought leave to appeal to the Supreme Court in regard to all issues decided by the Court of Appeal. He was given limited leave in regard to some issues. Mrs Clayton was also granted leave to proceed with a cross-appeal. Clayton v Clayton [2015] NZCA 30


She appeared for the appellant in the leading case on the obligations of disclosure by trustees to beneficiaries in Lambie Trustee Limited v Prudence Anne Addleman [2021] NZSC54, 1 June 2021. This case in the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court concerned the obligations of trustees to disclose information to a beneficiary. She appeared as counsel for the trustees.

 

DN & LN v Family Court at Auckland, SL & KQ [2020] NZHC 3165, 1 December 2020 and DN& LN v Family Court at Auckland, SL & KQ [2021] NZHC 1116, 19 May2021. These cases involved judicial review of decisions in the Family Court in regard to a Care of Children case.

 

Family Court at Auckland v Newton CA50/2021, 24 May 2022. This case involved judicial review of decisions in the Family Court and the determination of whether a psychological report should be obtained under s133 of the Care of Children Act 2004. An appeal was allowed and remitted back to the Family Court for determination. Deborah appeared for the parents in regard to this judicial review proceeding which sought to review the role of lawyer for children and the processes of the Family Court in regard to Care of Children litigation. The case involved arguments in favour of children’s rights.    

Thompson v Thompson [2014] NZCA 117, [2014] 2 NZLR 741, and Thompson v Thompson [2015] NZSC 26, [2015] 1 NZLR 593. Deborah appeared for the husband, Mr. Thompson, in regard to this litigation which involved a single asset dispute being the categorisation of a restraint of trade payment paid to the husband four and a half years after separation when the business, commenced during the marriage, was sold to a private equity firm. All other issues in regard to relationship property and trust property had been settled, but the issue of categorisation of the restraint of trade payment was complex and resulted in litigation at all four Court levels. Mr. Thompson was successful in the Family Court, High Court and Court of Appeal. However, the Supreme Court ruled that although the restraint of trade payment was Mr. Thompson’s separate property, it was appropriate to use a discretion provided under s 9(4) of the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 to reclassify it as relationship property. Thompson v Thompson [2015] NZSC 26


Dixon v Kingsley [2015] NZFC 5135, Dixon v Kingsley [2015] NZFC 9596 and Dixon v Kingsley [2015] NZHC 2044, [2015] NZFLR 1012. In these proceedings, Deborah represented the wife. A key decision in terms of compensation for post-separation contribution. In this case, Deborah argued successfully that the wife who was looking after the two sons of the marriage full-time without any real assistance from her former husband, and running a successful business, which had increased in value since separation, should receive a large compensation payment for that post-separation effort.

The Family Court awarded the wife $750,000 in regard to her post-separation contribution. This award is well in excess of any awards previously awarded under this section.

An interlocutory appeal to the High Court between the same parties concerned the rules in regard to discovery in relationship property proceedings and in particular the degree of relevance required before disclosure would be directed. The decision by Kos J is now the key decision in regard to discovery in relationship property proceedings. Anonymised copy of judgment of Brown DCJ v3 (3)


Deborah appeared in the Supreme Court representing Auckland Council as an intervener in Down v R [2012] NZSC 21, [2012] 2 NZLR 585.


Heatley v Heatley [2012] NZHC 537,[2012] NZFLR 688, which concerned the jurisdiction of the Family Court to transfer complex relationship property proceedings to the High Court.


Simpson v Walker [2012] NZCA 191, (2012) 28 FRNZ 815, claim against trustees and solicitors for breach of fiduciary duties and negligence in respect of an estate.


C v G [2010], NZCA 128, [2010] NZFLR 497 (CA), maintenance of former partner; period of liability; the major decision in regard to the interconnection between maintenance and relationship property agreements.


M v B [2006] 3 NZLR 660 (CA), [2006] NZFLR 641, which was the first major case dealing with Z v Z, economic disparity, long term spousal maintenance, and 'relationship property' in a mirror trust.


D v C [2002] NZFLR 97 (CA), which is a key authority on the operation of the Child Support Act.


Z v Z [1997] 2 NZLR 258 (CA), claim for future earnings and valuation of the husband’s partnership share in an international accountancy firm.

In Wright v Pitfield [2022] NZHC 385 Deborah also appeared in the first case in which the High Court ordered a party who did not wish to attend alternative dispute resolution to participate.

McCallum v McCallum & Ors [2021] NZCA 237, 8 June 2021. This case concerned the proper approach to Beddoe orders where the trustees of a family trust had applied for their costs in the litigation to be paid from trust funds.

 

Blake v Blake (aka Romanes v Romanes) [2021] NZHC 3575; [2021] NZHC 756 [interim judgment]; [2021] NZHC 2590 [Final (economic disparity) judgment]; and [2021]NZHC 25893 [leave judgment]. This was a major relationship property case in which Deborah acted for the wife. It was dominated by issues in regard to the application of section 9A(1) of the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 relating to the application of relationship property to the husband’s separate property. It involved complex issues of accounting and valuation. An additional issue in this case was the application of section 15 of the Property (Relationship) Act 1976.  The husband is appealing the decision to the Court of Appeal.


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