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FAMILY PROVISION: Lindop v Agus, Bass and Hedley [2009] EWHC B 14 (Ch)

Date:3 JUL 2009

(Chancery Division; HHJ Behrens; 3 July 2009)

The man died unexpectedly, aged 37, of a brain haemorrhage. The woman claimed under Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 for reasonable financial provision out of the man's estate. The issue to be determined at the hearing was that of eligibility: the woman claimed that she had been living with the man 'in the same household as his wife', within s 1(1A), and that she was being maintained by the man otherwise than for full consideration immediately before his death. The estate disputed both claims. There was evidence from a number of witnesses as to the fact of the relationship, and the fact that the man and woman were living at the same address, but the woman had retained her father's address as her postal address, and was registered to vote at the father's address. Only the woman's car insurance used the man's address. There had been some reference in contact proceedings concerning the woman's child from a previous relationship to the fact that she was living at the man's address, and not at the father's address. The man also had a child from a previous relationship, and the contact with this child had routinely been co-ordinated with arrangements for the woman's child so that the two children could spend time together.

The court was satisfied that the couple had been living together for at least 2 years, and probably for over 3 years, in the same household, despite the lack of documentary evidence. There was sufficient corroboration of the woman's own account from the witnesses. There had been a stable sexual relationship, the man had provided financial support in the form of housing, holidays and clothes, and when the woman and the man were each caring for the children from previous relationships, they did so together. The relationship had been that of man and wife, and had been sufficiently open and unequivocally displayed, notwithstanding the fact that public bodies, such as the woman's bank, had not been aware of it. Most of the evidence pointed to the couple living openly together and displaying this to the outside world. In the context of the woman's recent bitter divorce, there was nothing inconsistent with the woman living with the man 'as man and wife' while retaining a different address either as security or in case the relationship broke down. Further, the woman was being maintained by the man immediately before his death, at least in part. The man had been housing her, providing her with a car, paying or holidays and paying for some of her clothes. It was true that the woman had not produced bank statements, but the estate had not requested such statements, and the estate itself had not produced the man's bank statements. The estate could not rely on the absence of disclosure to assert that the woman had failed to satisfy the burden of proof in respect of the question whether the man's contribution to her needs had not been for 'valuable consideration'. The court was entitled to rely on the woman's evidence and on the fact that the man had been earning substantially more money than the woman.