A recent case has demonstrated the reasons why separating couples should officially end their relationship with divorce.
Joy Williams, a 69-year-old grandmother, lived with her partner Norman Martin for 18 years before his death from a heart attack in 2012.
However, Mr Martin had previously been married and had twin daughters. Although he split from his wife, he never divorced her or made any amendments to his will.
This meant that his assets and his half of the house he had lived in with Ms Williams were passed to his family members and not his long term partner.
This has left Ms Williams in a very difficult position. Ms Williams may need to sell the house, valued at £355,000, as she cannot afford to buy out Mrs Martin.
Ms Williams said, ‘I was very happy with Norman for 18 years and I still treasure his memory.’
She is now taking her case to the County Court in Central London, where His Honour Judge Gerald will consider the case.
This case has highlighted the common misconception that ‘common law marriage’ exists. Unfortunately, there have been many instances in which a couple have happily lived together for many years and when one partner dies their estate passes to their spouse, leaving their cohabitant with nothing.
Many married couples are apprehensive about starting divorce proceedings. People may be put off divorce by the constant media portrayals of divorce as expensive and extremely stressful. Many couples may decide to split up, move into a different house and quickly have a completely separate life from their spouse. Couples often separate on good terms and can about matters such as childcare and finances without any involvement of lawyers or the courts.
When couples live completely different lives, they may feel that there is no need to bother with a divorce. A divorce may seem like an unnecessary hassle and expense. They might plan to divorce at some point but never actually get around to it. This situation can work well for many separated couples.
However, not formally ending a relationship with divorce can cause problems further along the line. In cases such as Ms Williams’, separated spouses may find that the partner they lived with is left with nothing when they die.
What Can You Do?
When two people are married, and one of them dies, the surviving spouse can make a claim upon their deceased partner’s estate. Divorce can sever this link.
When you have been through a divorce and meet a new partner, you may not necessarily want to marry again. However, you can get a cohabitation agreement which outlines who will get what property if you separate in the future. Writing a will remains the best way to ensure that your property, money and personal possessions will be inherited by the people you want to inherit.
Molly McGrady is a legal writer based in Scotland writing about topics such as divorcing in England and Wales.