Legal Hypothetical – Community expectations: A stepfather’s duty

MARY divorced her first husband and has been living with her two sons, Peter and Paul as a single mother for the last couple of years.

Mary meets David and after dating for several months, they decide to purchase a home and move-in together.

Peter and Paul were aged five and six at the time.

David assumes the role of a de facto father to Mary’s sons, until they move-out in their early adult years.

Mary and David’s relationship spans 20 years before breaking-down following an argument in which Mary’s sons side with her.

Mary and David negotiate a property settlement and David has no contact with Mary or her sons for several years before he passes-away, aged 60.

David gifts an estate worth $1 million, to his brother.

David leaves a note with his will, stating that he had been grateful to his brother for his support after his separation from Mary.

Peter and Paul make claims against David’s estate.

Having finalised the property settlement years earlier, Mary makes no claim on David’s estate.

Although stepchildren are not automatically eligible to claim, the Court finds that Peter and Paul are eligible to make a claim because they lived in the same house as David and during that time, were partly dependent upon him for accommodation, food and education.

The Court finds that Peter and Paul are entitled to an award because they perceived David to be a father figure in circumstances where they had no contact with their biological father.

They ask the Court to award them each $200,000.

In consideration of the estrangement between the parties, the Court is unwilling to determine fault, but expresses doubt that the community would expect for David to make provision for Peter and Paul other than relatively small legacies.

The Court assesses the plaintiffs’ respective needs and awards Peter $60,000 and Paul, $50,000 plus their legal costs.

Email Manny Wood, Principal Solicitor and Accredited Specialist in Wills and Estates at TB Law at or call him on (02) 66 487 487.

This column is only accurate at today’s date and is not legal advice.

By Manny WOOD, Solicitor

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