CONTENTIOUS PROBATE

The rights of military wives to be - security after the loss of a loved one in service

Cathryn Culverhouse tells the story of one woman’s unwavering determination for justice against her deceased partner’s employer, the RAF.

The fourth episode of Inheritance Wars: Who Gets the Money centres around a fiancée who is left homeless and not only in a battle with the deceased’s family, but also his employer, the Royal Air Force (“RAF”).

Jane Langford met Chris Green in 1996. At the time, Jane was employed at a computer company, working as a Relationship Development Manager in the Ministry of Defence (“MoD”). It was within these professional confines that she first met Chris, who was stationed as an Air Commodore in Shropshire.

Chris invited Jane to an RAF summer ball and, 10 years down the line in 2006, they became engaged. Jane soon moved into Chris’s residence on the RAF base, where she found herself taking on the roles and responsibilities expected of a military officer’s partner. Chris held a prominent position within the RAF and so Jane’s support was seen as paramount to his success by their friends.

On 16 May 2011, the day after Jane’s birthday, Chris suffered a heart attack and died unexpectedly.  As Jane came to terms with Chris’ death, the RAF asked Jane to vacate the house she shared with him on the military base. The RAF also informed Jane that she was not entitled to receive Chris’s pension. Jane was left mourning her fiancée with no home, no job and no income.

Usually, a military pension is distributed to the surviving spouse of a deceased officer. Nowadays where the couple were unmarried but in a stable, co-dependent relationship, the surviving partner also has a to claim these benefits. Despite having been separated from her previous husband for 17 years, Jane was denied Chris’ pension and compensation due to a failure to complete the necessary divorce paperwork of her previous marriage.

Chris and Jane owned a property in equal shares. Unfortunately, this was held as tenants in common rather than joint tenants. This crucial distinction meant that the 50% owned by Chris was bequeathed to Chris’ parents and brothers pursuant to the terms of his Will.

Jane proceeded to mediation with Chris’ family, and it was agreed that Jane would pay £110,000 to receive Chris’ share of the property which would provide her with a much-needed home.

After having secured her home, Jane began to challenge the MoD’s decision to reject her application for Chris’ pension and compensation. Due to financial constraints Jane was unable to afford a lawyer and so in 2013 she represented herself at a London tribunal on the issue. Though she lost this round, she was granted the right to appeal, and did so.

Jane, at that point, met a law student who acted as her litigation friend; a non-lawyer who guides individuals through the legal process. The appeal was heard at the High Court in 2016. Jane submitted evidence to prove the long, committed and exclusive nature of hers and Chris’ relationship. The facts were undeniable and accepted by the Court but, unfortunately, the Court agreed the MOD’s interpretation of the rules that Jane could not benefit because she remained married to her estranged husband.

As Jane lost all hope, two days before the deadline to appeal, the litigation friend heard about a Supreme Court ruling where five Supreme Court judges ruled that an unmarried woman in a long-term cohabiting relationship was entitled to payments from their deceased partner’s occupational pension, a case that closely mirrored Jane’s situation. The case, having set a precedent, gave Jane the ammunition needed to appeal.

In June 2019 Jane stood before the Court of Appeal asking them to determine a single, crucial question: was it justifiable to deny Jane her entitlement to the pension and compensation due to her failure to formalise her divorce or was that discriminatory?

The judges acknowledged that the pension scheme aimed to place unmarried couples in the same position as married couples when a partner passed away. They, therefore, found that denying Jane the pension was deemed unjustified and amounted to unlawful discrimination.

The story took a surprising twist as the MoD decided to appeal to the Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court again ruled in favour of Jane, affirming the decision of the Court of Appeal.

Jane’s journey is one of unwavering determination. She persevered for the love she had lost and the justice she deserved. Her story demonstrates that, even in battles against seemingly insurmountable odds, the underdog can emerge victorious when they commit to the fight.

If you are left in a difficult position following the death of a loved one, whatever the issue may be, contact our Contentious Probate team to discuss the options available to you.

About the authors


about the author img

Cathryn Culverhouse

Partner

Expert in a wide range of complex contentious probate disputes including 1975 Act claims, validity disputes and undue influence claims.

Stay connected, sign up for updates

Stay connected

Recent articles

Insights

Does adding a non-contest clause to your Will ensure an Inheritance Act claim cannot be made?

Does adding a non-contest clause to your Will ensure an Inheritance Act claim cannot be made? Sadly, that is not always the case.

02/07/2024

Insights

Separating fact from fiction: common myths in Contentious Probate

Our expert Contentious Probate team aim to bust common myths and ensure you know all the facts to avoid unnecessary conflict.

07/06/2024

Videos

Understanding caveats in probate: when and how to use them

Contentious Probate experts Jenny Ray and Cathryn Culverhouse answer some common questions about the use of caveats and demonstrate how, and when, to use them.

23/05/2024

Media spotlight

DMH Stallard noted as one of the best firms for championing women

legalbusiness.co.uk writes about the number of female professionals ranked in leading legal directory Legal500, with DMH Stallard holding 14 rankings across 20+ departments in the latest edition.

11/03/2024