Can you imagine burying a spouse and then being sued for support by his mistress? For those who believe in primacy on marriage and that marriage obligates its partners to fidelity, the idea of rewarding a mistress to a portion of the family’s an inheritance is unjust. Others argue that financial obligations should flow from the intensity and duration of life partner relationships regardless of the partners’ marital status. What do the courts think?
In Nowell v. Town Estate the deceased had a 24 year extramarital affair. During the week he lived with his wife, but on the weekends this man spent time with his mistress, gave her gifts worth about $125,000 and promised to support her. The mistress contributed to the man’s work as an artist without compensation. Left nothing in the will she sued the estate. Do you think she deserved any money? The Ontario Court of Appeal did.
The judges recognized that a 24 year relationship was more than casual and for the last 13 years it was quasi-spousal. The judges felt the mistress should be fully compensated because the estate was unjustly enriched. Mr. Town accepted his mistress’ help, did not pay for it, and he benefited financially. The court was influenced by the fact that the mistress made Mr. Town the focal point of her life and that through the years Mr. Town assured his mistress that he would look after her. While this did not create a legal relationship it proved the nature of the relationship. The court still awarded her $300,000.
In Mahoney v. King 1998 CarswellOnt 2348 a mistress successfully sued a married man for support because the court found that she was a common law spouse. Arguably, a mistress suing her paramour’s estate could use this case as a precedent. As a “spouse” the mistress would qualify as a dependant and would be entitled to support under the Succession Law Reform Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. S.26 if her paramour did not provide her with adequate support. There are those like the late law professor James G. McLeod who disagreed with this decision. He took exception to the idea that a woman who had an affair with a married man who lived with his wife may be a “spouse”. While Professor McLeod understood the argument of making an unjustly enriched estate compensate a mistress like in Nowell v. Town Estate he felt that to suggest that a mistress was a spouse for support purposes takes away whatever meaning is in the word “spouse”.
The different views of a mistress entitlement to support under the law should tell you that this issue is not a simple one. My short review of these cases should not be taken as legal advice. Based on my experience in dealing with these cases they often turn on the specific facts. If you have a legal question relating to something similar, you are best advised to seek out competent legal counsel to determine your best course of action.