Parents as Partners Logo Parents As Partners

Affirming parents as partners of
equal status for the support of
their families.

It has finally happened –we will get out day in Parliament!

A bill on income splitting is to be introduced TODAY!

See the NZ Herald article and poll which currently is rating 82% in support.

Also see the United Future Poll here

Who are we?

We are New Zealand parents and ordinary people who assert the right to parent our own children, and not to be regarded as second-class citizens for doing so.   We are an independent group, and are not affiliated with any particular groups or organisations.
To enlist your support send an email from the contacts page.   You will receive the occasional emailed newsletter to keep you in touch with what is happening.  Your comments and contributions will be welcome.

Parents as Partners asserts:

  • parents' right to establish a partnership for the support of their family.

  • that we as parents are workers, and that our work is vitally important for the well-being of our society and the economy.

  • the value of "mother or father-in-the-home".   In the context of a recognised partnership they would achieve economic visibility.

  • the right of parents to share their income for tax purposes by means of the partnership.

  • that the tasks of income earning and care giving are of equal importance for the family, and that the parents should be free to divide those tasks between them as they see fit, without economic constraints on one or other choice.

The Status of Parents and Parenting


Over the last decade investment in parenting has declined markedly as women's participation in paid work has increased and fertility rates have declined. This calls into question the sustainability of current structures and policies affecting the economic status of parents and parenting.

The issue of who pays for the costs of reproduction has been described as "the unfinished business of the women's movement". This workshop explores a radical proposal for policy change that crosses the boundaries between paid and unpaid work.

The question of who pays for parenting and the cost of raising kids has been described as "the unfinished business of the women's movement". Since the 70's women have been encouraged to "break free" from traditional roles, to pursue education and a career, to engage in public life, and some have even made it to the top, as is evident with our record of women in leadership. But to imagine this has involved a simple shift of women into a man's world is to oversimplify the issue, and fails to recognise the complexity of issues women have faced and still do face. For some it has meant taking on the superwoman role, pursuing career while still taking on the primary responsibility for family. Others have sacrificed having a family at all. Meanwhile, still others, for a range of reasons, have continued to fulfil so-called traditional roles of home maker and parent, despite the cost to themselves both directly and indirectly in terms of loss income and loss of career continuity. Women are no longer accepting those costs, and are having fewer children later. An increasing number are opting to have none at all.

The economic sustainability of this failure to recognise the cost of raising children, and of society to share a greater responsibility for that cost is fast becoming a major issue. The solutions assumed thirty years ago, that all we needed was better access to affordable childcare, or that men would take up a greater share of the domestic load, have only produced a partial solution. Whether for social, economic, cultural or biological reasons, women still take primary responsibility for childcare, and do most of the domestic work. This fact is recognised as the most important single factor for their continued lower social and economic status.

This paper explores an alternative strategy that seeks to find ways to integrate the cost of raising children into our economic structures, so that this work is recognised as real work, and that those who do this work are not relegated to second class status for doing so.

The Price of Motherhood1
In perhaps the best recent analysis2 of the issues surrounding motherhood, Ann Crittenden notes that the costs of motherhood are everywhere apparent:

  • college-educated women pay a "mommy tax' of over $1m when they have a child
  • mothers are legally deprived of financial equality in marriage
  • at-home mothers and their work are left out of the GDP, labour force, and social safety net.

How parenting is viewed

The status of parents and parenting is viewed differently across the political spectrum. Those on the so-called 'liberal left' seem to be locked in a 70s feminist mindset where women are still being urged to "be men", and mothers are being told to "get a real job" without any forethought about who should do the parenting, and who should pay. In their minds "quality childcare" is an acceptable substitute to parenting. Perhaps for some it is, but for others it is not.

On the other hand, the moral conservative right ask "How can one be paid for a labour of love?" but just because caring work is not self-seeking does not mean one should be penalised for doing it. Crittenden notes that "maternal love makes every woman a slave".3 recently we saw the emergence of the neo-liberal right who would insist that raising children is a personal lifestyle choice. "If you want children, you pay. Why should I pay for your children?" is their attitude.

All these views fail to recognise the social contribution parents make, the social responsibility we all have to share in the cost, and the rights of parents to an income, to full citizenship in their own right.

All assume women will go on having babies, and have them for nothing, i.e. that they will pay for the privilege both directly and indirectly. But the truth is that they will not. Women are saying "If I have to pay, why should I? I want my career and the good life too," and are voting with their wombs!

A Global Perspective

I am not an economist, but as a Mum I do know about productive activity that sustains human well-being. But what is economics? Is it about producers and consumers, supply and demand, GDP3 and economic growth? That's what we a led to believe, what dominates the media, and the interests of the politicians and business community alike.
But that's only half the story. These terms refer only to the market economy, those activities for which money is exchanged. Needless to say, it concerns primarily modern western industrialised nations who dominate international trade.

But traditional societies had their own economies that sustained them long before money was invented. Even today the majority of the world's peoples survive on the food they produce themselves. The collect firewood for fuel, collect water from their own streams or wells, build houses from material locally available etc. Essentially they consume what they produce as communities. This is commonly referred to as subsistence production, and operates largely outside the market economy. It is non-market production, and the vast majority of this work is done by women.

But to return to our modern market economy, it is important to recognise that a significant proportion of the activity that sustains us on a day to day basis is also non-market production. We mostly cook our own meal, do our own cleaning at home, mow our own lawns, and drive ourselves to work rather than paying for these services. And many of us still do most of the parenting ourselves, for no pay. Recently there have been a spate of new studies on the value of this non-market production in the maintenance of our well-being.

Ironmonger's 1995 study4 in Australia calculated that even in a modern market economy estimates are that half of the productive activity needed to sustain us is non-market production i.e. unpaid work. A 1995 UNDP study found that the number of hours spent on unpaid household work, much of it associated with child-rearing -amount to at least half of the hours of paid work in the market5. In New Zealand the Ministry of Women's Affairs conducted its own Time-use surveys6, and found that women spent more time in unpaid work than men, while men spent more hours in paid work.

Crittenden claims that "unpaid female care giving is not only the lifeblood of families; it is the very heart of the economy. This huge gift on unreinbursed time and labour explains, in a nutshell, why adult women are so much poorer than men"7. She asserts "both the family and the global economy are 'free riders' on the backs of women"8.

This is a human rights issue

Crittenden asserts "A powerful argument for putting an end to free riding on women's labour is fairness."9 She draws an analogy with soldiers. "Soldiers, like mothers, render an indispensable national service to their economy. But soldiers are compensated with honours and material rewards to avoid free riding on their services"10. But women are expected to do this work without compensation, including a dignified subordination of their personal agenda, and a reliance on altruism for life's meaning. We are told to "Be happy, you should feel privileged to be doing the most important job in the world!" But who actually believes that anymore? Once again, to quote Crittenden, "When this is expected of one group of people and not of everyone, it becomes the mark of an underclass"11.

Who really owns the family wage?

Traditionally, under English common law, a husband had sole ownership of all family property and income, including any wages the wife might earn. This was the legal doctrine of coverture, by which a wife was legally subsumed under her husband after marriage. Wives literally did not exist as independent citizens, able to make contras or own property of their own … 12

To this day, mothers have no legal right to the greatest single financial asset that most families possess: the primary breadwinner's income. Her interests and well-being are subsumed by her spouse. The implication is "O but you're all right dear, your husband will look after you". And top of that, he is taxed as if her was a single person, effectively making at-home mums the highest taxed group in our society!

It is extraordinary that, in this day and age, when our policy making is grounded in a culture of human rights, that we should still consider it acceptable that a certain sector of our society be treated as an underclass, and not to be regarded as full citizens in their own right.

A bit of history

The early feminists, most of whom were wives and mothers, did not accept the denial of a mother's worth without a fight. Before the Civil War feminists claimed that married women's unpaid labour entitled her to nothing less than an equal share in family wealth and income. But this demand proved far too radical, and the women's movement increasing concentrated on the more attainable goal of female suffrage.12

These movements were mirrored in New Zealand. In the 1880s and 90s Kate Sheppard campaigned successfully for women's suffrage, and then went on to establish the National Council of Women. One of the first remits passed, in 1896 was

"That where a woman elects to superintend her own household, and be the mother of children, there shall be a law attaching a certain share of her husband's earnings or income for her separate use, payable, if she so desire it, into her separate account."

More than a hundred years on, we still have not established the right of a woman to a share of family income. The so-called "family" income, to this day it remains the exclusive property of the spouse who earns it.

Test case: Powell-Reymer vs IRD 1996
In 1993, my partner and I attempted to establish a partnership by registering it with the Inland Revenue Department. The stated purpose of our partnership was to support our family. The terms or our partnership were:

  • He earned income on my behalf
  • I did care giving on his behalf while he was at work
  • Outside work hours we share household and care-giving tasks equally
  • Any income earned by either of us is shared equally
  • All property was owned and shared equally
  • All decision making was made jointly.

Registration of our partnership was a straight forward matter; many couples owning their own businesses have partnerships. We'd even checked IRD's criteria for recognition of partnerships, that all property is owned jointly, that work is shared more or less equally, and that decision making shared equally. We felt we complied on all three criteria without question.

However, when we proceeded to split my husband's income between the two of us, so that we would each pay tax on our own half share, they objected, insisting that the income belonged to my husband alone, on the grounds that it was his "personal exertion" that generated the income, and therefore could only be taxed as his. It did not seem to matter that there was a provision in tax law that "a person is deemed to have derived an income, even when it has not been derived by them, but has been earned in their interest and on their behalf" (s.76, Income Tax Act 1976). I felt this legitimately covered my claim to a share of the income, on the ground that it was earned in my interest and on my behalf, and furthermore, that I was denied a benefit in my own right by Social Welfare specifically because I was expected to be supported by my husband!

The upshot was that our partnership declared invalid, with the judge declaring

"As desirable as it may be for a husband and wife to share their income for tax purposes, the law as it stands does not allow for it. Hence IRD insisted that all the income belonged to my husband alone, and should be taxed as such, and what he did with his income after that is his business!"

So, our marriage is declared to be not an economic partnership! So what I am I supposed to live on? I felt the reality of being declared a non-citizen, of being invisible in public policy. Since I was denied an income in my own right, I could not be a tax payer, nor, as a partnered person, could I claim status as a beneficiary. I could not even be declared a "dependent spouse" since that category no longer existed in tax policy. This was clearly an abuse of my right to citizenship, denied me only because of my marital status, where my interests are subsumed by my husband's. If I were single I would have no problem. It is on this basis that I currently have a complaint with the Human Rights Commission against the NZ Government, an issue that is yet to be resolved.

Human capital
Economists are beginning to realise that human capital is an even more important component of a nation's riches than natural capital (land, minerals, water), or physical capital (bricks and mortar, machines, roads).

In 1995 the World Bank estimates of the value of human and social capital in developed countries (educational levels, skills, a culture of entrepreneurship) was estimated at 59%. The remainder consists of natural resources (25%), and manufactured capital (16%). Since most natural resources are given -you can't create more oil or arable land -this means that in the wealthiest countries, human capital accounts for three quarters of the producible forms of wealth.13

Crittenden argues that if most of our national prosperity reflects the productivity of our human capital, then the people who provide primary care to children are the single most important source of our most valuable economic assets.14

But the economics profession remains stubbornly reluctant to think about the maternal contribution to the economy. It is as if economists "still do not know where babies come from".15

Crittenden suggests that a reason for reluctance to recognise this is that if the work officially doesn't exist, then society as a whole can avoid paying for it.

What is a Wife Worth?

Crittenden writes "The ultimate question for women who devote much of their lives to raising their children: Is caregiving really valued equally with moneymaking in a marriage? If a woman chooses to set aside her own income and ambitions to become the primary parent in a family, supporting her husband's career in the process, will she really be considered an equal partner? Or despite all the lip service to the importance of family, is a wife an equal only if she contributes an equal amount of money to the partnership?" 16

She cites a matrimonial property case in the USA, Wendt vs Wendt case where this question was tested. Lorna Wendt was the first prominent woman to speak up publicly for the important principle of equality of women, not just in education or in the labour market, but also in marriage. In 1997 this was still a radical claim. Moreover, Crittenden writes, in many courts of law, it was still considered unnatural for a wife and mother to claim a material reward for her labours on behalf of the family. This makes wives the only workers in the economy expected to work for no remuneration, which is obviously why women as a group are still so much poorer than men. It seems the situation is the USA is no different to New Zealand.

A Radical Proposal

How then might the unpaid labour of partnered women be counted? My proposal is that all couples who share responsibility for the economic well-being of each other and their dependants, should be able to register their partnerships with IRD as any business or economic entity would, so that each partner is taxed on their own share of partnership income. This is commonly known as income splitting.

This would give due recognition to:

  • the interdependence of partners (consistent with welfare policy)
  • the social contribution of the non-employed partner to their family and society
  • the right to an income in their own right of the non employed partner
  • remove anomalies whereby those owning their own businesses currently are able to split income, but families on wages or salaries cannot.

This would effect an integration of non-market production with the market economy at the level where decisions about the balance between paid and unpaid work are actually made, that is, within the household, seriously challenging patriarchal assumptions about the value of work and the status of those who work in its various sectors, both paid and unpaid. And since no other country has gone so far down the track as we have towards an individual unit of assessment for taxation, removing any discrimination on the basis of marital status, we are also well placed to further push the boundaries and establish a precedent for such an integration, and thereby achieve full equality for women, irrespective of where they choose to work.

Biography: Christina Reymer

Primarily an at-home mother of five, Christina Reymer is the instigator of Parents As Partners, a campaign for recognition of couples as partnerships. Christina also works professionally as Director of Mahitahi, the NZ Catholic Bishops Conference development assistance agency. Christina is also on the national executive of the National Council of Women, and various other community initiatives. She holds a Masters Degree in Education from the University of Waikato, and is Justice of the Peace.

Did you know...

Currently income tax in New Zealand is assessed on an individual basis regardless of your marital status, and with no allowance made for and dependent children.

Yet Income Support is jointly assessed.   So if you are the non-employed partner on your household, you can't apply for a benefit in your own right since your partner's income would be taken into account.

Income Support can do so because the Human Rights Act is subordinate to other enactments, but only until 31 Dec 1999.   Something has to change before then, but what?   We must not let the New Zealand Government extend the exemption of the Income Support Act, NZ, to continue to deny us an income in our own right.

Talk to your partner, friends, family, MP or anyone about this issue.   Your right to economic visibility as a parent is at stake!

What we want...
           a change in the law.

We are campaigning for an amendment to the  New Zealand Income Tax Act (1976) to allow for all couples to declare any income earned by either partner as partnership income.

  • To create economic visibility for the "mother- in-the-home"  (or  "father-in-the-home").

  • To strengthen women's economic independence, and establish a legal basis for a more equal sharing of income between partners in that every person would have a right to an income in their own right. There is no intent to artificially split income to reduce taxes.

  • To establish consistency with the Matrimonial Property Act (1976) by extending the principle of joint ownership of income and property to the period of the marriage itself, and not just on its dissolution .

  • To remove anomalies between couples whose income is derived from a privately own business and couples whose income is from wages and salaries.

  • To allow couples greater flexibility in deciding how they share the tasks of income generation and caregiving, as the impact on taxation would be neutral.

  • The proposal may reduce the tax take in the short term, but because it strengthens the family in economic and social terms, the benefit to our communities would be considerable, and may in the end cost the taxpayer less. 


25 March 2011


Victory: Tax (Income Sharing) Bill recommended to proceed

The Finance and Expenditure Committee has come through with a recommendation that Tax (Income Sharing) Bill proceed, following their consideration of over 100 submissions on the Bill.

This is a victory for ordinary ‘Mom and Dad’ families in New Zealand who struggle for some recognition and support for their efforts to invest their own time in raising their children. “It just makes commonsense, and is only fair that couples earning the same total income with the same number of children should be taxed the same,” says Christina Reymer, spokesperson for Parents As Partners, a lobby group that has campaigned for income splitting for over 15 years.

The committee stated in their Report “We support the policy intent of the bill, and on this basis are recommending that it proceed. We consider that there is a need to support families with dependent children, and a need to recognise the interdependence of those within a family unit and acknowledge the important role of caregivers who forgo paid employment to raise their children.”

It is interesting to note that this report coincides with the Children’s Commissioner John Angus’ call this week for parents to be helped to stay at home to raise very young children. Parents As Partners maintains that this is not only better for babies and their families, but it is also more cost effective.

If the government is reluctant to put more funding into care of under twos in institutions, then it only makes sense to at least recognise the investment parents are making in their own efforts to care for their children. Income splitting does just that.


Of Interest:

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1 In our endeavours to be gender neutral, lets not fall into the trap of being gender blind. Parenting affects women more than it does men in terms of their social and economic status, hence the focus on motherhood

2 Ann Crittenden (2002). The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued. Henry Holt Publ.: New York.

3 GDP = Gross Domestic Product, the sum total of all goods and services bought and sold in a national economy in one year.

4 Cited in Waring, M. (1996). The Three Masquerades, Auckland University Press, p.99

5 Crittenden, p.76

6 Ministry of Women's Affairs (2001). Around the Clock: findings of the New Zealand time use survey 1998-1999.

7 Crittenden p.8

8 ibid. p.9

9 ibid.

10 ibid.

11 ibid.

12 Crittenden p.46

13 Crittenden p71

14 ibid. p73.

15 ibid. p74.

16 Ibid. pp131-2

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