Was she a tenant or in 'marriage-like relationship? A judge will decide - InfoNews

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Was she a tenant or in 'marriage-like relationship? A judge will decide

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September 16, 2020 - 6:30 AM

A B.C. Supreme court judge has allowed a 79-year-old Kelowna woman to remain in the home she has been living in for 20 years until a court decides whether the property's 88-year-old owner, who is now in a care home, was her roommate or her spouse.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Heather MacNaughton blocked the property from being sold until the end of a 10-day trial scheduled for April 2021, when the court will decide whether the two women were living as common-law spouses in a marriage-like relationship or in a landlord-tenant situation.

According to the Aug. 28 decision, 79-year-old Rita Bryson Morrison began living with 88-year-old Bethel Greenwood in 2000. In 2019 Greenwood, who has dementia, moved into a care home. Soon afterwards, Greenwood's legal guardian told Morrison he would be putting the house up for sale so that the proceeds of the sale could be used to pay for Greenwood's care.

Morrison then filed in court in an attempt to block the sale of the home, arguing she was Greenwood's spouse and they had had a marriage-like relationship and was therefore entitled to some share from the property's sale.

The decision says if the home was sold for $800,000, Morrison would get around $300,000 from the sale of the house.

According to court documents, Greenwood is a published writer who never married or had children. She inherited the Maple Street Kelowna home from her mother in 1997. In 2000, Morrison who was divorced and has two children, moved in.

"Ms. Morrison alleges that the parties were in a committed spousal relationship," Justice MacNaughton said. "The spousal relationship is denied by Ms. Greenwood’s litigation guardian who says that Ms. Morrison was a housemate and/or tenant in the home."

While next year's trial will decide whether the two were in an intimate relationship together or not, Morrison filed applications asking the court to block the sale of the home until after the trial, along with several other requests.

Morrison asked the court to grant her permission to visit Greenwood in her care home, as currently due to COVID-19 the care home stipulates only one person can visit and her attorney, James Flannigan, was currently registered as the one visitor. Justice MacNaughton said she had no legal authority to overturn this rule.

Morrison also requested some of the respondent’s affidavits, which will be used during the trial, be scrapped, and that Greenwood's litigation guardian, Peter Burnham, also be removed saying he was not acting in Greenwood's best interests. The Justice dismissed both these requests.

Morrison agreed she would not be able to afford to live in the house even if it is decided she is the common-law spouse but asked to be allowed to stay put until after the trial.

Ultimately, Justice MacNaughton agreed to allow Morrison to live in the home until after the trial. The judge says she is not allowed to smoke in the house and must pay all utility bills and other associated expenses.

The Justice also reasons that because the real estate market is most desirable in the springtime, the home can be listed prior to the trial starting.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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