Judge awards co-habiting partner of 18 years share of property

By Lenore Rice

A judge has awarded a woman her deceased partner's share of the property they lived in together for 18 years, after it had originally passed on to his estranged wife because they had never divorced and he hadn't updated his Will.

Joy Williams, aged 69, had purchased the property in 2009 with her partner Norman Martin, and they were registered as tenants in common, meaning each could dispose of their share in the property in a Will. The other method of holding property is joint tenants which provides that a person's share in the property will automatically pass to the other owner in the event of their death. Mr Martin had separated from his wife Maureen but not been legally divorced. He had also failed to update his Will, meaning therefore that upon death, his half share in the property passed to his estranged wife.

Ms Williams launched legal action to challenge the transfer of Mr Martin's share in their property, bringing a claim for "reasonable financial provision" to be made for her out of her partner's estate. The judge at the Central London County Court found in her favour and said that the "fair and reasonable result" would be for Ms Williams to acquire "an absolute interest" in the house.

The case is of particular importance in highlighting the need for reform of cohabitation laws in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Despite a very popular misconception, there is no such thing as a 'common-law spouse', and people who cohabit do not have the same rights as married couples.

If you require legal advice about cohabitation agreements, a divorce or other family law matter, contact Wilson Nesbitt in Belfast or Bangor by calling 0800 840 1363.

To speak to a will writing solicitor about making a Will, or updating an existing one, call 0800 840 9293.