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Long term partner wins half of home she shared with married man

By Kathryn Mason -

Last week, I reported on Joy Williams’ property case in the London County Central Court. Today, it has been held that the interest in the property should belong to Joy Williams and not, Norman’s estranged wife.

The background to this case is set out in my first article. By way of brief summary only, Joy and Norman were in a relationship for 18 years. They purchased a property together which they held as tenants-in-common. Norman remained married to his first wife, Maureen, despite the lengthy separation. Upon his untimely death, his share in the property reverted to his estranged wife and not to Joy.

The law on cohabiting couples

There have been calls to give more rights to cohabiting partners. As it stands, the law does not immediately recognise ‘common law spouses’ and therefore does not automatically afford cohabiting couples any rights in either inheritance or upon separation. The judgment in this case follows shortly after the House of Commons issued a briefing paper on cohabitation laws.

The judgment

The London County Central Court has held that Joy did have a claim to Norman’s share in the property because she and Norman had lived there in a “loving and committing relationship” and it is therefore “fair and reasonable” that she retain an “absolute interest” in the property.

Lessons to take away

Speaking outside the court today, Joy said:

“I hope my situation raises awareness for others to consider their own financial position in relation to their partner and consider whether they need to take advice to protect each other in future.”

This case is a strong reminder to cohabiting couples to get their legal affairs in order. Couples taking the leap and purchasing property together should consider:

  • Purchasing the property as joint tenants. This will mean that should one party die, their ‘share’ in the property will automatically pass to the other owner.
  • Consider a cohabitation agreement. The agreement can set out intentions at the time of the purchase of the property and what you intend to happen should you separate later down the line.
  • Update/write a will when you move in together/purchase a property together. This will ensure that should the worst happen, your last gift to your loved one is financial security.
  • If you move in with a partner but remain married, seriously consider divorcing the first person. This will not only provide a degree of emotional closure to the marriage but will also finalise the financial arrangements. Spouses who are against divorce could consider judicial separation so that they technically remain married to each other but the legal obligations between the estranged spouses no longer exists.

Analysis

This case has grabbed the headlines and has raised awareness (yet again) that cohabiting couples do not have the same rights as married couples. There is no doubt that this is a sad and frustrating case for all parties involved, particularly the two women left behind to pick up the pieces of what could harshly be described as life mismanagement.

Although Joy and Norman were (perhaps) not aware that cohabitees do not have the same rights as married couples, they remain in a long term and committed relationship while Norman remained married to another woman.

Whilst Joy is able to look to her long term security, Maureen Martin is now saddled with legal costs of £100,000. This seems like a rather high price to pay for not divorcing your husband and fighting to keep a share in a property which the law dictated she was entitled to. Her daughter has advised that Maureen intends to appeal the decision.

This case is really a lesson to people to stop letting matters of the heart rule their financial arrangements and to wake up to the fact that there are plenty of laws affecting your love life… for better, or worse.

If you would like to know more about the issues covered in this article, Vardags offers a free consultation to qualifying individuals.

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Kathryn Mason

Kathryn read History at the University of Cambridge before converting to law through the senior status law degree at Queen Mary, University of London. She wo...