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Case highlights need to update cohabitation laws and the myth of common law marriage…

A woman's fight to keep the home she shared with her now deceased partner for almost 20 years has highlighted the need to update cohabitation laws according to a case recently before the Court.

Joan Williams lived with her partner Norman Martin for 18 years but faced losing her home because his share of the house passed to his estranged wife Maureen Martin after he died of a heart attack.

Norman and Maureen had separated but never divorced and Norman had not updated his will. Williams and Martin owned the house as tenants in common. Williams contended that the Court should award her his half of the house to provide her security as she has been without his financial support since his death. The Judge ruled in her favour recognising the issue that she had lived with Norman Martin "as husband and wife".

The case highlights the fact that notwithstanding Williams victory there was 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.

Whilst Williams was successful in her case clearly she has suffered the trauma of bringing the matter to Court.    

She said;

"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 protect each other in future".

Tim Barker, Solicitor in the firm and Head of our Family Law Department said “The situation clearly highlights the need for consideration being given as to whether cohabitation laws should be changed but also raises concerns about the lack of understanding members of the public have”. He emphasised “There is no such thing as common law marriage. Consideration needs to be given to changing the law -  but in the meantime this makes it all the more important that people in unmarried situations consider their position including making even a straightforward will”.

“Whilst I don’t know the details of this specific case, it’s likely that Williams has had to resort to the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act which was enacted in 1975 and which does give people in her situation some protection”.

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