What makes a genuine and stable relationship?
There is something special about marriage ceremonies.
Two people make a commitment to each other to spend the rest of their lives together.
People often view marriage vows as a sentiment made in heaven and lived on earth.
Typically, weddings are beautiful events. There is an air of hope and continuity of tradition and the way of life, as we know it.
There are also people who dispense with these and believe in other ways to be together, sometimes referred to as ‘being in a partnership.’
Immigration Zealand (INZ) is tasked with assessing partnerships and marriages for the purpose of granting visas. The test that partnerships and marriages must pass is whether the couple is living together in a genuine and stable relationship. The meaning of ‘genuine and stable’ is subject to interpretation.
Genuine and stable relationship
If the couple are living together, this goes a long way towards proving the relationship is genuine and stable. However, this is problematic for a significant percentage of applicants who do not believe in living together before marriage.
We get situations where people apply for a partnership-based visa shortly after marriage . These are declined because the couple has not lived together for very long.
INZ address this problem by issuing visitor visas. These allow couples to live together for a longer time. Eventually their relationship will meet the ‘genuine and stable relationship’ requirement and they can apply for a partnership-based residence visa.
This compromise is only a partial solution to the problem and is not entirely satisfactory.
The fact that a couple did not live together before marriage should not exclude them from partnership-based residence visas. Many of these couples are just as genuine and stable as couples who live together prior to marriage.
INZ should be able to recognise couples who, because of their culture, tradition, or religion, do not live together before marriage. It should be equipped to recognise non-traditional partnerships.
A recent decision from the Supreme Court is an example of one such non-traditional partnership.
The case involved a New Zealand citizen whose husband applied for a residence visa based on their partnership. During their three years of marriage, she gave birth to two children. INZ declined the Residence Visa Application, stating that the relationship was not genuine and stable and that the applicant had provided ‘false and misleading information’.
The Supreme Court disagreed and ruled that although the marriage may not have been ideal, it bore the hallmarks of a genuine and stable relationship. They lived together and shared childcare obligations and financial responsibilities. The Court quashed the decision of INZ and allowed the appeal of the plaintiff.
New assessment method
The decision of the Supreme Court introduced another way in which genuine and stable relationships can be assessed.
The ‘genuine and stable’ test asks applicants to provide a great deal of personal and intimate information about their relationship. This can include the time they have spent together, the way they communicated with each other, the authenticity of their marriage certificate, photographs, bank statements, remittances and so on.
The ‘genuine and stable’ test is now open to new interpretations.
The implications of the decision of Supreme Court are still being studied but it is likely to have a major impact on the family and spouse policy of INZ.
The non-traditional end of the partnership spectrum is becoming more acceptable to society.
Points to ponder
However, will this also be true of the other end of the spectrum, where traditional values exist and living together cannot commence until after marriage?
Will Immigration New Zealand accept this view? Will anything change on the policy front?
Will these developments create a new norm? Is the traditional set up losing significance? Where does this leave the off shore applicants who still operate under the traditional values?
We will watch the changing landscape with interest.