Cohabitee wins share of partner’s home

Family Law|February 17th 2016

A woman whose partner of 18 years died in 2012 has won a share of his home, despite the fact that they never married.

Joy Williams lived with former dentist Norman Martin in Dorchester, Devon, for close to two decades, but he remained legally married to his estranged wife Maureen throughout that time.

When Mr Martin died of a heart attack at the age of 69, Joy had no automatic entitlement to her partner’s share of the home because they had held it as ‘tenants in common’. Such arrangements are similar to joint tenancies but if one tenant dies the other does not inherit.

In addition, Mr Martin had not updated his will. When Ms Williams realised that her former partner’s share in the property was to go to his estranged wife and that she planned to sell this, the 69 year-old launched legal proceedings, fearing she could become homeless.

And earlier this week, Judge Nigel Gerald, in a lengthy judgement, ruled that she did indeed have a claim on her partner’s property because she and her partner had lived there in a “loving and committed relationship”. It was therefore “fair and reasonable” that she retain an “absolute interest in” (complete ownership of) the property.

Speaking after the ruling, Ms Williams said she felt “relieved and delighted”, saying the case had taken “a huge toll”.

She added:

“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 judgment has done just that.”

Discovering that cohabiting relationships are not recognised in law had been “traumatic”, she continued.

“… I therefore had to bring this claim in court to achieve some security and to obtain this result.”

She urged other cohabitees to learn from her experiences and “consider their own financial position in relation to their partner”.

Maureen Martin meanwhile has been ordered to pay a substantial costs bill. Her daughter said she intended to appeal the ruling.


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  1. Andrew says:

    We only have press reports to go on unless this case goes to appeal. My guess is that what the partner got was a ruling that there should not be a sale while she is living there. I see no legal basis for transferring the widow’s share to her.

    • Marilyn Stowe says:

      Dear Andrew
      Of course there is.
      The Inheritance Provision for Family and Dependents Act 1975.
      Section 2 Powers of court to make orders.
      (1)Subject to the provisions of this Act, where an application is made for an order under this section, the court may, if it is satisfied that the disposition of the deceased’s estate effected by his will or the law relating to intestacy, or the combination of his will and that law, is not such as to make reasonable financial provision for the applicant, make any one or more of the following orders:—

      (a)an order for the making to the applicant out of the net estate of the deceased of such periodical payments and for such term as may be specified in the order;

      (b)an order for the payment to the applicant out of that estate of a lump sum of such amount as may be so specified;

      (c)an order for the transfer to the applicant of such property comprised in that estate as may be so specified;

      (d)an order for the settlement for the benefit of the applicant of such property comprised in that estate as may be so specified;

      (e)an order for the acquisition out of property comprised in that estate of such property as may be so specified and for the transfer of the property so acquired to the applicant or for the settlement thereof for his benefit;

      (f)an order varying any ante-nuptial or post-nuptial settlement (including such a settlement made by will) made on the parties to a marriage to which the deceased was one of the parties, the variation being for the benefit of the surviving party to that marriage, or any child of that marriage, or any person who was treated by the deceased as a child of the family in relation to that marriage.

      [F8(g)an order varying any settlement made—

      (i)during the subsistence of a civil partnership formed by the deceased, or

      (ii)in anticipation of the formation of a civil partnership by the deceased,

      on the civil partners (including such a settlement made by will), the variation being for the benefit of the surviving civil partner, or any child of both the civil partners, or any person who was treated by the deceased as a child of the family in relation to that civil partnership.]


  2. Andrew says:

    One of us has got the facts wrong. I understood that the tenants in common were the man and the widow, in which case the widow’s share could not be taken under the ’75 Act – only if they were joint tenants (itself a remarkable concept but let’s not go there!) – but you think it was the man and the partner. If you are right about that then of course your answer to me is right. I am old-fashioned enough to think that the rights and needs of the widow should have come first – he had a prior and formal commitment to her – but I am aware that in the days in which we live I am spitting (euphemism) into the wind there.

  3. Luke says:

    I find this case quite extraordinary, in NOT divorcing his wife and living with this other woman he seems to have completely evaded via death the court asset reallocation – except that his wife is saddled with a £100k legal bill !
    Of course it is unclear what the matrimonial home he left behind to his wife was worth – but this doesn’t seem to have been taken into account either way so the point is moot.
    This decision doesn’t seem to make any sense but then neither does our legal system at times – still, the lawyers seem to have won again 🙂

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