The Consequence Of No Divorce
25 February 2016 by Ties Bouwmeester
A woman who lived with her partner for 18 years has won a legal battle with his estranged wife for his share of their home. Joy Williams faced losing her home after her partner, Norman Martin, died leaving his estranged wife to claim a half share of the house. Mr Martin and Ms Williams bought the property in 2009 as tenants in common, which meant his share of it was not automatically transferred to her when he died of a heart attack in 2012.
Despite the fact that Mr Martin had separated from his wife, he did not divorce or update his will to reflect his relationship with Ms Williams. As a consequence of this, all his estate, including his share of the house, went to his estranged wife. Judge Nigel Gerald, sitting in the Central London County Court, said Ms Williams had brought a claim for “reasonable financial provision” to be made for her out of Mr Martin’s estate. Ruling in her favour, he said the “fair and reasonable result” was that she should “retain an absolute interest” in the house that she and Mr Martin had shared in a “loving and committed” relationship.
Mrs Martin contested the claim, rejecting the suggestion that she and her husband were estranged, despite him having moved out of the matrimonial home in 1994 to live with Ms Williams. The judge said Mrs Martin’s case was that “she and the deceased, in substance, remained in a committed relationship as husband and wife and that the deceased was in effect maintaining two separate households”. But rejecting that argument, the judge said it was “quite plain” that Ms Williams and Mr Martin had in “all material respects” lived as husband and wife in a way “in which they expected to spend the rest of their lives”.
Paula Myers, representing Ms Williams, said the case highlighted the need for cohabitation laws “to be brought into the 21st Century. There is no such thing as a common-law husband or wife and couples who live together do not automatically have the same rights as a married couple or those in a civil partnership.”
“Unmarried couples who live together should have cohabitation agreements in place outlining who owns property and how bills are divided. People should also ensure that their wills are up to date and reflect their wishes, particularly if their circumstances or relationships change.”
Recently, the Library of Commons published a briefing paper relating to ‘common law marriage’ and cohabitation across England and Wales. The paper includes statistics for the number of cohabitants in Britain, and general information regarding how the law applies to these cohabitants and future reformation proposals from the Law Commission. The briefing paper is available here.
For more information about the law relating to cohabiting couples, please click here.