Common Law relationships and intestate Estates.

Nancy Chen proved to the Supreme Court of British Columbia that she was the common law spouse of Philip Richardson, and was awarded his estate on November 19, 2014.

Ms. Chen’s status as a common-law spouse was disputed by the deceased man’s brother, Steve Richardson, who applied for a grant of administration without a will. Philip Richardson died without a will on May 12, 2014. He was a resident of Gambier Island, which is located 10 k.m. north of Horseshoe Bay in Howe Sound.

Mr. Steve Richardson stood to inherit his brother’s estate, if he could convince The Honourable Mr. Justice Steeves that Ms. Chen and Philip Richardson did not have a “marriage-like relationship“.

The deceased’s brother argued that, because Ms. Chen and Mr. Philip Richardson lived in separate homes, they were not a couple. Ms. Chen owned a home in Surrey, and Phillip Richardson lived primarily in the Gambier Island Home.  A complicating factor was evidence that Mr. Richardson listed himself as “divorced” on his tax forms.

Considering all of the facts, The Judge concluded:

“Taken over all, I conclude that the applicant and Mr. Richardson structured their relationship so that they could work in two locations and look after their respective families in those locations. As reflected in the above authorities, that is consistent with a marriage-like relationship.

Ms. Chen and Mr. Philip Richardson had been together in an intimate relationship for approximately 15 years. It is generally understood that it is difficult to find employment in the small island community, so it was not surprising that Ms. Chen did not live there full-time.

Specific evidence supporting their marriage-like relationship included the following affidavit evidence: The Gambier Island community viewed them as a couple, they had a wedding-like ceremony in China in 2006, Ms. Chen cared for Mr. Richardson’s parents (and called them “mom and dad”), they intended to retire together, and Mr. Philip Richardson stated that he would “take care of” Ms. Chen after his death.

Ms. Chen was awarded Mr. Richardson’s estate, which included $105,000 in cash and term deposits as well as Mr. Richardson’s interest in the Gambier Island property. She was also awarded ordinary costs associated with her application.

Full case link


Jayne Embree M.A.

Divorce Coach and Child Specialist

Jayne holds a Masters in Psychology and is a highly experienced Divorce Coach and Child Specialist. Currently on sabbatical, Jayne is conducting research in the area of family dynamics and parental conflict.  


Areas of Practice: Family law including separation, divorce, mediation, arbitration, child & spousal support, support variations, guardianship, parenting time, access, property division and more. Victoria BC