Living together? Know your rights

LIVING together? How much of your property do you actually own?

Many couples mistakenly believe that by living together, they become “common law” husband and wife.

The Courts have recently given judgement in a litigation battle which lasted over four years. 

The case concerns determining unmarried couples’ beneficial interests in property acquired in joint names.

The couple, Mr Kernott and Ms Jones, had their first child in 1984 and jointly purchased a family property in 1985.

They had a further child a year later. As with many couples these days they decided not to marry.

The relationship broke down in 1993 and Mr Kernott moved out of the property. Ms Jones took responsibility for their mortgage and their two children. 

Some years later Mr Kernott purchased a new property in his own name.

Mr Kernott and Ms Jones held the family property jointly in both their names. Mr Kernott asserted that he should be entitled to 50% of the property.  Ms Jones argued that she paid for the mortgage and looked after the children for fourteen years whereas Mr Kernott was allowed to walk away from his responsibilities and set up a new life for himself.

Mr Kernott was awarded 10% of the property.

The case went to a higher Court who decided that he should retain his 50% interest.

Ms Jones then appealed that decision and it was decided (at a higher Court) that when Mr Kernott moved out his interest in the jointly owned property had “crystallised”.

He therefore retained his 50% interest in the property only until 1993 and this only equated to 10% of its current value.

In this case there was a substantial difference between the respective financial and familial contributions.

Where a property is owned in joint names, there is a presumption that the beneficial interests are held jointly.

If this is not the case the Court will have to search for the proper allocation of shares in the property.

This is likely to involve disproportionate legal costs.

This situation would have been remedied if an agreement had been put in place when Mr Kernott moved out.

This would clearly have shown the common intention of the parties.

Simple precautions can be taken to avoid long, expensive and extremely stressful legal battles which are inevitable when a relationship breaks down.

If you have any queries about issues raised in this article please contact Paul Russell of Epworth-based HSR Law on 01427 872206.