The federal government and aboriginal groups launched a consultation process Friday aimed at providing for the equitable division of the matrimonial home and land on reserves when marriages break down.

Provincial laws governing the fair division of assets when marriages fail do not apply on reserves and the federal Indian Act, which governs most aspects of reserve life, does not address the subject.

The consultations will be led by the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC), the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and regional native groups.

Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice has appointed Wendy Grant-John, former chief of the Musqueam First Nation in B.C., to co-ordinate the talks.

She will submit a report, including recommendations, after the consultation period ends in January. Prentice said he expects new legislation to be drafted in the spring.

"The issue of matrimonial real property on-reserve is highly complex, but its impact on a number of First Nations families has been simply devastating," Prentice said.

"This is fundamental for the welfare of First Nations communities, particularly for the welfare of women and their children" he said.

NWAC president Beverley Jacobs said the absence of matrimonial property laws has created great hardship for aboriginal women, usually forcing them and their children to leave their reserves or move in with family members.

"For the first time, aboriginal women will have access to the same level of protection as women and children elsewhere," she said.

AFNNational Chief Phil Fontaine said he expects real dialogue on the issue and emphasized that he's not prepared to accept pre-determined outcomes to the consultations.

Fontaine saidwhatever legal solutions are proposed "must respect our jurisdiction" and have the support of the aboriginal community.