A woman who lived with her partner for 30 years until he died just after the law on the rights of unmarried cohabitants was changed is entitled to apply to be provided for from her partner's estate, the High Court ruled.
The man died in summer 2011, just a few months after the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants came into operation.
The couple did not have any children and the woman applied to be provided for from her deceased partner's estate.
The personal representative of the estate appointed as part of his will argued that the new law required a person to be living with another for five years or more - but this requisite period only took place after the law came into force. As the man died only a few months before the commencement of the law, the partner could not show five years of cohabitation, it was claimed.
The issue of whether the woman was covered by the period prior to the enactment of the law or not came before Ms Justice Siobhan Stack as part of the proceedings taken by the partner against the estate's personal representative.
In her ruling, she found some or all of the period of cohabitation relied on prior to the change of law meant a person was a "qualified cohabitant" for the purpose of seeking an order for provision from the estate.
She said while there is a presumption at common law that the legislature does not intend retrospective effect to legislation, this can be displaced by clear statutory wording or by necessary implication.
It was in force before the death of the deceased, and therefore it was before his will took effect, before the property of the deceased vested in his personal representative, and before anyone could take a benefit from the deceased’s estate, she said.
She agreed with the deceased's partner that she may rely on periods of cohabitation before the commencement of the law for the purpose of bringing herself within the definition of “qualified cohabitant” such as to allow her to apply to be provided for from the estate.