The Common Law Wife & Other Myths

Profession:Hextall Erskine

Twenty years ago Mark was happily married with three young girls, aged 3, 2 and 6 months. He arrived home from work one day at 6pm to find crying children and his young wife lying dead on the floor of the kitchen. She had a rare and serious heart defect. Mark was grief stricken and dazed. He tried to cope with nappies, bottles and baby-sitters, but his work and health were suffering. Sensibly, he hired a young and enthusiastic nanny called Sally.

Gradually, with the assistance of his friends, family and a very capable nanny, he began to recover from his shock and grief. The three young girls took to Sally quickly and soon she was the only mother they could remember. Counting on Sally's devotion to the children and her other domestic skills, Mark was able to throw himself back into his work in the City as an investment banker.

Along the way Mark and Sally began sleeping together. At one point Sally became pregnant but unfortunately miscarried. Mark made it clear that he felt three children was enough so Sally took contraceptive precautions, although she would have very much liked a child of her own. The day to day routine and work with the three girls was time consuming. Her bond with them was loving and strong. She loved Mark and she felt fulfilled.

Mark's work continued to be lucrative and his bonuses allowed them a high standard of living. By last year they were living in a £1.5m house, the girls were at good private schools and they had expensive ski holidays twice a year.

Last year Sally's world fell apart. Mark came home late on Valentines Day to announce he was in love with Trisha, one of Sally's friends. He asked Sally to vacate the house as he no longer required her service as nanny/housekeeper.

When Sally attended at her solicitor's office she was stunned and in a state of shock. How could he seek to discard her like this after 20 years? Surely she must have some rights as a common law wife? The solicitor had to explain gently that there is no such thing. The solicitor discovered that Mark had never discontinued the standing order for £250 per month he set up 20 years ago when Sally was engaged as a nanny. Sally had used this as pocket money all these years. Mark made it clear that he was prepared to fight any claim she would make and would deny the intimate relationship. He pointed to the "wages" he paid her and claimed she was an employee.

At the age of 45, Sally had no assets, income, or career and few...

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