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Woman awarded share of property after it had passed to deceased partner’s estranged wife

Date:17 FEB 2016
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A woman has been awarded a share of her deceased partner’s property after it had passed to the deceased partner’s estranged wife.

Joy Williams faced losing her home after her partner died leaving his estranged wife to claim a half share of her house. She lived with partner Norman Martin, a dentist, for 18 years but he died of a heart attack and his share of the house passed to his wife, Maureen Martin.

Although Mr Martin had separated from his wife he did not divorce or update his will to reflect his relationship with Ms Williams. All his estate, including his share of the house, went to his wife.

Ms Williams wanted the court to award her Mr Martin’s share in the home they shared so that she has some security for her future as since he died she is without his financial support. The judge ruled in her favour acknowledging that she did live with Mr Martin as ‘husband and wife’ for many years and she will now be able to keep his share of the property.

Specialist will dispute lawyers at Irwin Mitchell, representing Ms Williams, say the case shows the need for cohabitation laws to be brought into the twenty-first century and highlights the need for couples living together to have co-habitation agreements in place and up-to-date wills.

Paula Myers, National Head of Wills, Trust and  Estates Dispute team at Irwin Mitchell, said:

'This has been a long, hard and emotionally exhausting battle for Joy. She has had to deal with the loss of her partner and the threat of possibly losing her home. The case has been incredibly stressful for her and she is tremendously relieved that it is over.

I am delighted that the judge has decided that Joy should own her partner’s share of the home they shared. This is the right judgement for our client who was placed in the intolerable position of having half her home being owned by her partner’s estranged wife and being unable to plan for her future or move on with her life.

This case highlights the need for co-habitation 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 co-habitation 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.'

Joy Williams said:

'I am relieved and delighted that this case is finally over because it has taken a huge toll on me and my family. I was with Norman for 18 years and those were very happy times. I loved him, he loved me and I still treasure his memory. All I wanted was for the Court to recognise that I needed to have his share of the house that was our home to provide me with some security for my future and this judgement has done just that. I believe that that is what Norman would have wanted for me. The judge’s decision means I can now stay in my home and my future is much more secure as I have the freedom to sell the property in the future when I need to.

 “What has been traumatic for me is that this level of serious relationship is not currently recognised by the law and I therefore had to bring this claim in court to achieve some security and to obtain this result. 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 their each other in future.'

Last week, 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.
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