Legal Framework

The legal framework of property disputes between spouses and partners, is regulated by the Law Regulating Property Affairs of 1991 (No. 232/91). The Family Courts have exclusive jurisdiction to deal with and hear such disputes that relate to property affairs between spouses.

The issue of resolving property disputes between spouses lies within Article 14 of the Law No.232/1991, which reads as follows:

14. (1) If the marriage has been dissolved or annulled or if the spouses are separated and the property of the one spouse has been increased after the marriage, the other spouse, having contributed in any way to the said increase, is entitled to file an action before the court and claim such part of the increase resulting from his/her contribution.

Article 2 of the Law No. 232/91 defines property as any movable or immovable property that has been acquired before the marriage with the prospect of marriage or at any time after marriage takes place, from any of the spouses.

In addition, Article 15 of the Law No. 232/91 refers to the limitation period of the claim and specifically states that “The claim that arise from article 14 (a) shall lapse three years after the dissolution or annulment of the marriage, (b) shall not, on the case of death, arise in heirs of the deceased spouse (c) shall not be assigned or inherited unless it has been contractually recognised or a claim has been served“.

The Supreme Court recently examined the current practice as to the right of a surviving spouse to claim posthumously his/her contribution to the increase in his/her deceased spouse’s property, regardless of his/her rights under the Law No. 232/91.

Prokopiou v Giagkou and Pilidou as Administrators of the property of the deceased Karalouka Appeal no. 22/2020

Background

Three days before the lapse of three years from the dissolution of her marriage the Appellant filed an application with the Family Court of First Instance, based on Article 14 of Law 232/1991 and the application was directed against the administrators of her ex-husband’s estate, since he had passed away before the submission of the application.

The First Instance Family Court

The Family Court of First Instance, ex officio, raised an issue of its jurisdiction to conclude that the application did not concern a property dispute between spouses and that ” The claim of article 14 of the Law does not arise in the person of the deceased spouse’s heirs (article 15(b) of the Law) “. Consequently, he rejected the application.

The Supreme Court

The appeal raised an issue concerning the jurisdiction of the Family Court of First Instance and to what extent does it acquire jurisdiction to hear a claim, pursuant to Article 14 of the Law 232/91, after the death of the spouse against whom the claim would have been directed had he been alive.

The Supreme Court unanimously agreed that the interpretation of the Family Court of First Instance was incorrect. The Supreme Court explained that “Article 15(b) does not refer to the right of the surviving spouse to the property of the deceased, which is an acquired and existing right, only that due to the death of the spouse the claim must necessarily be directed against the administrator or administrators of his property, as in any other claim against a person who has passed away (Article 34(1) and (7) of the Law on the Management of Inheritance of Deceased, Cap. 189)………In other words, what the deceased could claim, based on Article 14, if he was alive, cannot be claimed by his heirs.”

The Supreme Court concluded that the Family Court of First Instance has exclusive jurisdiction to deal with and hear the said application before it and any other claim under Article 14 of the Law 232/91.

The Supreme Court decision was influenced by the statement in Philippou v. Philippou (2003) 1 (C) A.A.D. 1343, where it was stated that “it is evident that the intention of the legislator was to include all property disputes between spouses without distinction in relation to property acquired before the marriage in anticipation of the marriage or at any time after the conclusion of the marriage, by any of the spouses, in accordance with the provisions of the Property Relations Regulation of Spouses Laws of 1991-1999, in the exclusive jurisdiction of the Family Court, regardless of what the basis of the action is.”

Legal Findings

Hence, in light of the above, it is evident that, the interpretation of Article 15 (b) of the Law 232/91 given by the Family Court of First Instance was incorrect and the Family Court of First Instance, in case of the death of one of the spouses, is the only Court that has the jurisdiction to deal with and hear an application submitted by the surviving spouse against the administrator  of the property of the deceased spouse in order to claim posthumously his/her contribution to the increase in his/her spouse’s property.

 The Supreme Court decision of Prokopiou v Giagkou and Pilidou as Administrators of the property of the deceased Karalouka Appeal no. 22/2020 can be read in full detail by following this link.