An Auckland man felt "betrayed" after his partner of almost 30 years died and left him only her ashes, sparking a legal battle over the meaning of a de facto relationship.
A decision from Justice Grant Powell in the Auckland High Court, released on Wednesday, ordered that Steven Moon be paid $NZ300,000 ($276,000) out of the estate of Mary Doyle.
Their relationship had lasted for 27 years and ended with Doyle's death after a long battle with cancer early last year, the decision said.
Steven Moon laid claim to the whole of Mary Doyle’s estate, which was opposed by her older brother.
Moon told the court that after Doyle died and he read her will, he was "very upset and felt used" when he found she'd bequeathed him only her ashes.
"I feel betrayed by her," Moon said in his evidence, quoted in the judgment. "It was as if I was nobody in her life. I had spent nearly every day with her for 27 years, except for two and a half weeks when I was in hospital and some short trips to the South Island."
At the March hearing, Moon laid claim to the whole of Doyle's estate, which was opposed by her older brother, Patrick Doyle.
While Patrick Doyle acknowledged the longstanding relationship between Moon and Mary Doyle, he questioned whether his sister would have regarded her relationship with Moon as being de facto.
The judgment said that for much of their relationship, Mary Doyle had significant health issues and was a wheelchair user. The pair slept in their own houses on Auckland's North Shore, with Moon going to Mary Doyle's house after work to cook her dinner, spend time with her and do chores around the house.
Moon's unchallenged evidence was that the pair also had a normal sexual relationship up until Mary Doyle was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2015.
However, Mary Doyle described the pair as "friends" in legal documents and to various members of her family.
Patrick Doyle's lawyer argued they did not live together, had no shared assets, and Mary Doyle had set out her status as "single" on every significant legal form in evidence.
The court also heard from several independent witnesses who described the couple as partners who were in a loving relationship.
"I'm leaving you the most precious thing: me," Mary Doyle wrote in a note for Moon that he received after her death with regard to her ashes. She went on to say she didn't want them scattered anywhere, and that she'd always loved him. She also thanked him for "being there for me for all these years".
In his decision, Justice Powell was satisfied that despite Mary Doyle consistently describing Moon as a "friend," Moon's own view of the relationship was correct: they were in a de facto relationship.
"Ultimately the picture that emerges is of two quite private people who formed a relationship that worked for them despite very considerable difficulties arising from Mary's medical conditions," Justice Powell said.
"There can be no doubt whatsoever how important this relationship was, not just to Steven, but also to Mary."
The judge ordered that $276,000 be paid to Moon out of Mary Doyle's estate. This payment would "almost certainly" require the sale of her house, which had been left to Patrick Doyle.
He considered both parties had succeeded in the proceedings to an extent; Moon in that he was found to have been in a de facto relationship with Mary Doyle and entitled to a share of her estate, and Patrick Doyle in resisting Moon's claim to the whole estate.
The judge ordered that the costs of all parties be met out of the estate.
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