A recent case has demonstrated the dangers of separating, but not formally divorcing, from your spouse.
Ms Williams and Mr Martin lived together for over 18 years until his sudden death from a heart attack in 2012. Mr Martin was estranged from his wife but was still married to her, and he had not updated his will to include Ms Williams.
This meant that when he died, his estate passed to his wife rather than his long term partner, Ms Williams. The couple both owned the house that they shared, and Ms Williams found herself in a position where the ownership of her deceased partner’s half of the house had passed to his wife.
Ms Williams challenged this in court, and the judge ruled in her favour and found that Mr Martin’s share of the house should pass to her.
Sadly, this is a common occurrence in the UK. Many couples who separate will start by living separately. They may come to an informal arrangement or get a separation agreement from a solicitor to clarify the day-to-day practicalities of living apart, such as childcare arrangements and any debts or savings they accumulated together.
As time passes, couples might see no reason to bother with the expense and hassle of getting a divorce.
However, if you do not formally end your relationship with divorce, you can encounter problems further down the line, as in Ms Williams’ case. If a will is not in place, your estate may automatically pass to your spouse, even though you live an entirely separate life from them.
Although couples who cohabit do have some rights, going to court to make a claim upon your deceased partner’s estate can be very expensive and can make a difficult time even more stressful as there is no guarantee of success.
Molly McGrady is a legal writer based in Scotland writing about topics such as divorcing in Scotland.