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Many co-habiting couples believe that marriage is legally pointless and that they will be protected should their relationships end in tears. One case which underlined how very wrong that assumption is involved a woman who was in a relationship for 25 years but had to fight for every penny post separation.
When the couple met, she was a 19-year-old student and he was a college lecturer who was almost 20 years older. During their years together, they had a son, set up a successful design business and moved their way up the property ladder to the point where their country home was worth about £700,000.
However, following their separation, he insisted that she was not due anything. The house was in his sole name and he argued that she had merely been his lodger. Her role within the business had been that of a low-paid assistant and it had always been understood between them that she would have no entitlements if they split up. He was said to have told her that he was against any form of long-term commitment and that marriage was only good for the tax breaks if offered.
In rejecting his case, however, a judge described his attitude as callous and selfish. She had made a full contribution as his partner and mother to his child as well as to their joint economic success. In those circumstances, the judge ordered a sale of the house and equal division of the proceeds between them.
In challenging that decision before the Court of Appeal, he pointed out that there was no evidence that she had made financial contributions to any of the properties which they had lived in. However, final settlement terms were agreed in the midst of the case when she accepted an offer of £275,000 in return for relinquishing her claim to the house. The Court congratulated the parties on coming to terms and expressed the hope that they could now move forward with their lives.
Woodward v Ashmore. Case Number: B2/2014/0606