De facto gets the mansion

A DISPUTE over a deceased estate involving a sometimes Byron couple and a palatial home on Seven Mile Beach has effectively rewritten the definition of a de facto relationship.

The NSW Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that a couple who do not live together, or even see each other that often, can still be considered in a de facto relationship, with the surviving partner automatically getting the estate.

The decision followed a tri-continental battle over the estate of US citizen Richard Davis Rieser, a globe-trotter and self-confessed alcoholic.

Justice Bryson said he could not determine how Mr Rieser, who died in Santa Fe in 2007, managed his wealth, but said when he died he had assets that included the Byron home, a 23-year lease on a villa in Bali, a house in Santa Fe, a small forest in New Mexico, a $1.5 million coin collection and a jet.

Mr Rieser’s siblings argued they were entitled to the estate, however, his partner, Australian citizen Margaret Anne Dion countered that as his de facto she should receive his worldly goods, even though they hadn’t seen each other for eight months before his death.

Under the NSW Property (Relations) Act, a de facto relationship is a ‘relationship between two adult persons who live together as a couple’.

Mr Rieser’s sibling argued that the couple were not de facto under the law because Ms Dion was not permitted to live in the US and Mr Rieser did not have permanent residency in Australia.

But citing case law, Justice Bryson said the court must take account of all the circumstances of a relationship, including the ‘degree of mutual commitment to a shared life’.

The couple became lovers in 1981 when they met while she was a cook on a yacht. Justice Bryson described their life as ‘almost ceaseless journeying’ together and apart.

He said while they did not stay together at any one place for long, they ‘were in continual communication when apart’.

The court also found the couple were open in their relationship, with members of both families often staying with the couple in their Bali Villa.

Ms Dion, who is understood to be overseas, could not be contacted yesterday.

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