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‘Friends with benefits’ questioned in Supreme Court dispute

A number of unusual matters had to be considered during a Supreme Court estate dispute, including what the meaning of “friends with benefits” was and what the ramifications of a cult childhood meant for one of the parties.

user iconNaomi Neilson 02 June 2023 Big Law
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In a judgment to decide whether a woman was entitled to all or part of a deceased man’s estate, NSW Supreme Court was tasked with determining the nature of their relationship and whether this continued as a de facto partnership up until his stabbing death in July 2020.

In part of a judgment circulated on social media, Justice Philip Hallen wrote that a witness claimed there were “no indications” of a relationship between the woman and the deceased man.

Despite this, the man said they may have been “friends with benefits”, which he said meant “two persons helping each other out”.

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In this part of the judgment, Justice Hallen said the witness could not recall whether the term “included the friends having sexual relations or providing financial benefits to one another”.

“I do not accept his evidence on this topic as the meaning of that term, as I understand it, is ‘a friend with whom one has an occasional and casual sexual relationship’,” Justice Hallen wrote.

Justice Hallen also referred to the Oxford English Dictionary.

At the heart of the dispute was whether the woman had been a de facto partner of the deceased man, who she claims to have been with since 2007, when they had first met and up until his death.

At the commencement of the hearing, the court confirmed with both parties that if the relationship was established right up until his death, she was entitled to the whole of the intestate estate.

During a briefing on each of their backgrounds, the court learnt the woman was born into a Christian “cult” in South Korea called the “Temple of the Tabernacle”, which prevented couples from within the church from marrying someone outside of it.

The woman said she was hesitant about religion and unable to convert to the deceased man’s religion, as suggested during the hearing.

The court heard the deceased man was very religious and had compartmentalised his life by keeping the woman a secret and effectively isolating her from his family and loved ones.

“He did so, in all probability, because he perceived that to do otherwise would bring disrespect to his family, or shame onto them, or to his community, of which he was a leader,” Justice Hallen said.

During the hearing, Justice Hallen found the woman to be “credible” and preferred her evidence over the information from the witness.

However, he ruled she would receive just 15 per cent of his estate.

This matter is Sheen v Hesan; The Estate of Zaheer.

Naomi Neilson

Naomi Neilson

Naomi Neilson is a senior journalist with a focus on court reporting for Lawyers Weekly. 

You can email Naomi at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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