UK

Partner wins battle with estranged wife over share of house

Joy Williams Image copyright PA
Image caption Joy Williams bought a three-bedroom house with Norman Martin in 2009

A woman who lived with her partner for 18 years has won a legal battle with his estranged wife for his share of their home.

Joy Williams, 69, owned the home in Dorchester, Dorset, with Norman Martin, but he never divorced his wife Maureen.

When he died, his share automatically passed to Mrs Martin but a judge at the Central London County Court has now ruled it should go to Ms Williams.

Ms Williams said she was "relieved and delighted" that her future was secure.

But Mrs Martin's daughter, Louise, said she planned to appeal.

Mr Martin and Ms Williams bought their three-bedroom house in 2009 as tenants in common, which meant his share of it was not automatically transferred to her when he died of a heart attack in 2012.

'Two households'

Judge Nigel Gerald said she had brought a claim for "reasonable financial provision" to be made for her out of Mr Martin's estate.

Ruling in her favour on Tuesday, he said the "fair and reasonable result" was that she should "retain an absolute interest" in the house she and Mr Martin had shared in a "loving and committed" relationship.

Mrs Martin, 73, contested the claim, rejecting the suggestion that she and her husband were estranged, despite him having moved out of the matrimonial home in 1994 to live with Ms Williams.

The judge said Mrs Martin's case was that "she and the deceased, in substance, remained in a committed relationship as husband and wife and that the deceased was in effect maintaining two separate households".

But rejecting that argument, the judge said it was "quite plain" that Ms Williams and Mr Martin had in "all material respects" lived as husband and wife in a way "in which they expected to spend the rest of their lives".

Speaking afterwards, Ms Williams said: "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.

"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."

To succeed in her claim, Ms Williams had to establish that for two years up to his death she had lived in the same household as Mr Martin as his wife, or that immediately before his death she was being maintained "wholly or partly" by him.

'Devoted' wife

Paula Myers, from Irwin Mitchell, the law firm representing Ms Williams, said the case highlighted the need for cohabitation 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," she said.

"Unmarried couples who live together should have cohabitation 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."

Mrs Martin, who was not in court, was ordered to pay £100,000 in costs.

Her daughter, Louise, said: "My mother has been a loyal, faithful wife. She has devoted herself to her husband and her family.

"She has tried to act reasonably in this matter. We feel that the decision today has been most unfair and we intend to appeal."

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