Do you qualify as a spouse? Lessons from Albert Selby v Katrina Smith

court picThe deceased, Albert Selby, died without leaving a will and thus his estate is to be dealt with according to the Succession Act and the rules of intestacy which give priority to the deceased’s spouse, children then parents then siblings then nephews and nieces. The deceased was divorced, had no children and his parents died before him. The parties in the Albert Anthony Peter Selby v Katrina Smith [unreported] C.A. B’dos Civil Appeal No 14 of 2010; 2017-02-14 case are the brother of the deceased man and an unmarried woman with whom the deceased was cohabiting up until his death.

At the center of the case is the Succession Act of Barbados, particularly Section 2 which speaks to who is considered a spouse under the Act. Section 2 (3) and (4) of the Succession Act states

(3) For the purpose of this Act, reference to a “spouse” includes

  • A single woman who was living together with a single man as his wife for a period of not less than 5 years immediately preceding the date of his death;
  • A single man who was living together with a single woman as her husband for a period of not less than 5 years immediately preceding the date of her death.

(4) For the purposes of subsection 3, a reference to a single woman or a single man includes a reference to a widow or widower or to a woman or to a man who is divorced.

One of the two issues which the High Court was asked to determine was whether Ms. Smith is capable of being regarded in law as the deceased’s “spouse” for the purposes of the Succession Act, given that the deceased was a married man during a part of the five year period immediately preceding the date of his death. The High Court decided in favour of Ms. Smith and the deceased’s brother appealed to the Court of Appeal.

The deceased having been married at the start of the cohabitation with Ms. Smith and for a part of the 5 years immediately preceding his death, the issue which the Court of Appeal had to determine was who constitutes a single person for the purposes of Section 2 of the Succession Act.

The Court of Appeal handed down its decision last month and held that Mr. Selby though separated but not divorced from his wife for the requisite period of not less than five years immediately preceding the date of his death cannot be considered as single. The consequence of the Court of Appeal’s decision is that Ms. Smith, who regarded herself as Mr. Selby’s partner for several years cannot benefit from his estate on intestacy since she does not qualify as his spouse.

                                                                                                           – Kara-Je Kellman

Click here to see the article ‘Under what circumstances is a person entitled to inherit from their deceased partner?’

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