For many years, the legal profession has spoken of the fragility of not having legal protection in so-called, ‘common-law relationships,’ and a recent case has certainly highlighted the strength of working with the law
The national media has commentated on how an unemployed woman, who was in a same-sex relationship with a wealthy partner, has been victorious in a battle for half of the £1.7million former home they shared.
Shree Ladwa benefited with material goods, as well as many thousands of pounds in cash and luxury branded goods during a long-standing relationship with Beverley Chapman.
The court heard how the couple who were together for 16 years had a relationship where Ms Chapman bankrolled their lifestyle, including buying Ms Ladwa an Aston Martin car and paying off the mortgage on their London home.
However, when the couple split two years ago, Ms Chapman wanted to claim the home as her own, insisting she had put it in in joint names only after being harangued by her former girlfriend.
Judge Stephen Murch, sitting at the Central London County Court, found in favour of Ms Ladwa, ruling that she had been the equivalent of the housewife in the relationship, comparing to a traditional marriage.
He found the women had a “common intention” to jointly own the home, and that it would be put in both their names once the mortgage was paid off.
The Judge said Ms Chapman had regretted what she believes to have been undue generosity, but the joint ownership stood.
The property was bought in 2007 for £1.4 million in Ms Chapman’s name and transferred to joint ownership soon after. Ms Chapman also argued that she had given Ms Ladwa almost £400,000 during the relationship.
The vitriolic end to the relationship resulted in Ms Chapman also trying to reclaim lavish goods, such as designer shoes, bags, and jewellery, arguing the gifts were loans. This was rejected by the Judge.
The ruling means Ms Ladwa is entitled to a half the value of the house and does not have to return the gifts.
Without the legal decision to put the house in joint names, the result would almost certainly be very different.
When common law relationships end, often one party is left much the poorer, as the law does not accept living together, for however long, as protection.
Civil partnerships and marriage afford rights, but legal advice should be obtained to draw up a contract for common law relationships to record how financial assets are to be distributed and the parties’ rights in respect of them, should they separate.
It is wise in a relationship where one party has an unequal financial advantage to ensure there is legal protection for the weaker party. Too many people have their lives ruined as a result.
It is fortuitous, at the very least for Ms Ladwa that the house was in joint names, but make no bones about it, legal battles suck the energy out of people and the mental effect can ruin lives – so whilst she won her case, her victory comes at a cost.
Simply put, the law has to be used in committed relationships and we hope the publicity surrounding this case has sent a vital message to those living without legal protection.
If you would like help or advice surrounding this issue, contact us here at Dale and Newbery in Staines, we’re happy to help.