Businessman told to pay ex-partner £28,500

Cohabitation|October 18th 2014

A successful insurance agent must pay his former partner £28,500, the Court of Appeal has confirmed.

David Southwell set up home with partner Catherine Blackburn in 2000, buying a house in Droitwich, Worcestershire in his own name and paying the mortgage for this. But when the relationship ended “acrimoniously” in 2012, his now ex-partner and her two daughters were left with nowhere to go, the Mail reports.

She claimed he had promised her “a home for life” and “the security a wife would have” but he denied this, saying he had never intended to marry Miss Blackburn and had no obligations to her once the relationship ended.

The couple met in 2000, when the teaching assistant was recently divorced. She moved in with Mr Southwell two years later, giving up a secure rented home and contributing several thousand to the new property, following reported assurances from Mr Southwell.

Sitting at Worcester County Court last year, Judge Daniel Pearce-Higgins QC described the 55 year-old as “shrewd and cautious” and a man who did not want to marry. He told the court that he had seen friends’ marriages break up.

But the judge insisted that the insurance handled had been acting “unconscionably” in trying to deny Miss Blackburn a share in the property and ordered him to give her enough to set up home in the way she had been living before they met.

The judge said:

“He did not envisage marriage because he was aware that, as a wife, Miss Blackburn might have a substantial claim against him in the event of a breakdown.”

Mr Southwell had been willing to provide a home to Miss Blackburn and her daughters, the judge declared, but it was to be on “his terms” only.

He added:

“With the benefit of hindsight, I conclude that [Ms Blackburn] now realises she was too trusting and foolish and she likes to think she would have been more cautious and more aware of the need for proper documents and clear promises and firm agreements.”

Mr Southwell, an insurance claims handler, unsuccessfully appealed the ruling. Appeal Court judges unanimously backed Judge Pearce-Higgins’ ruling, saying Mr Southwell had promised his ex-partner a “home for life”.

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  1. Luke says:

    Well, I read up on this case and it is I think not quite as described, he denies she put any money into the house, he paid for her University studies as well as those of her children (who are clearly now adults) – basically he paid for pretty much everything (cars, accommodation etc. etc.).
    So I think paying her £28,500 is a bonkers decision by the judicial system because once again nobody has any idea where they stand. There is no contract and the decision is based on a whim.
    This is bringing in cohabitation laws by the back door and that’s a disgrace.
    “She claimed he had promised her “a home for life” and “the security a wife would have…”
    Anybody could claim this and the fact that he didn’t marry her so she could ACTUALLY be a wife – or indeed provide any contract at all – should have been a freaking red flag !!!!!!!!!!! Duh.
    The other problem with all this is the general problem with cohabitation laws – it infantilises women – it basically says they are too emotional to make rational decisions and men must bear all the responsibility in such situations, so the court can then patronisingly control and dictate everybody’s lives.
    Of course teaching children at school about family law should be something the legal profession ought to seek to do and would help immensely, but this would lead to reducing their business volume so I know I am flogging a dead horse on this.
    The key fact to take away from all this is that the guy paid £50,000 in legal costs… follow the money.

  2. mary says:

    I don’t know whether to be shocked by this ruling or to say well done because people co-habiting should have the same rules applied and it will make people think again before moving in together.

    He asked her to move in.
    He was aware she had children and by asking her and her children to move in he was agreeing he would support her and them.
    It wasn’t mentioned that he expected her to work, but personally I would think that since he paid for her university degree there was that expectation there that she would get a job. She did not work, it doesn’t take 12 years to get a degree.

    But Luke is correct, the fact that he didn’t want to marry her should have been a red flag.

    She says she trusted him, trusted everything he said. I say welcome to the real world! People lie, men and women to get what they want. But does that mean she should be paid?

    The judges comment that he ‘ give her enough to set up home in the way she had been living before they met’ makes is the part I disagree with as she was renting. She didn’t own a house and sell it to move in, she rented. She may have had furniture, he may have thought it cheaper to give her furniture and the bond to rent another house, that would have put her back in the position she was before.

    I doubt very much that solicitors and judges would say that a spouse can claim they’re entitled to live in the style they’ve become accustomed to anymore. If there is then my solicitor failed big time.

    So what next in the court rulings. One I’d like to see is being able to sue for alienation of affection because I’d sue the woman who my husband left me for -he told me it was because she could have children and I’d found out I couldn’t have any. She knew us both, knew full well he was married. In fact we even went to her wedding two years before, but she was all over my husband like a rash. So yeah, I’d sue her if that came in.

    But one things for sure now, I will never ever let anyone move in to my house! No way. They could sleep on the streets and it wouldn’t make me change my mind, not now after this ruling.

  3. mary says:

    Apologies: I’ve re-read the article, it does state ‘she doubled her salary’ as a result of getting her degree. So she was working. But the fact she doubled her salary after getting her degree that he paid for, means she gained financially anyway.

    What did she spend her money on if she didn’t contribute to the household bills as he claimed?

    If she bought the groceries, then that’s contributing. Did she pay for evenings out for them both? But had she been on her own, she would have had to buy food for herself and her children. Did she buy all their clothes, including his? That means she contributed to the bills.

    I don’t know about this judgement.

  4. Stella says:

    Well done on the judge I say….lessons learned all round, this is definitely a step in the right direction for the Cohabitation Bill to translate into an Act which is way overdue.
    People should be afforded the same rights if they have entered into a mutually agreed relationship….12 years is a long time for the lives of all concerned in this situation not to mention the youngsters…

  5. Andrew says:

    Stella: when and whether and when people have “entered into a mutually agreed relationship” is a grey fact-sensitive area. The best and only evidence of it is marriage. Better protection for the children while they are children – fine. But beyond that we don’t need to play “let’s pretend” – if people choose not to marry we should respect their decision – and expect them to bear the consequences.

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