Does splitting up mean splitting the house?


There is a court case now underway which could have a dramatic effect on unmarried couples who live together but then split up regarding their rights over the property they have shared.

Joint ownership and unmarried couples – legal rightsMany long-term unmarried couples who live together still believe they have a ‘common-law marriage’ and therefore legal rights if they split up. This is not the case. In fact, you simply don’t have the same level of protection as a married couple going through a divorce has, even if you and your partner have had children together.

The case before the Supreme Court concerns Patricia Jones, 56, who lived with her partner Leonard Kernott for 8 years from 1985 having been in a relationship with him for 5 years previously. Crucially, their bungalow was bought in joint names, though it was Miss Jones who supplied the initial capital required for the purchase. During their time together they had 2 children until Mr Kernott left their home and bought another property.

During the 8 years they lived together, the unmarried couple shared the mortgage and after they separated Miss Jones continued to pay the mortgage herself for a further 13 years. She also paid for all upkeep costs to the property and the endowment mortgage premiums, whilst receiving no child maintenance from her ex-partner.

Yet, in 2006, Mr Kernott demanded his share of the property and a court ruled that he was entitled to 10% of the property’s value. Mr Kernott took his case to the Court of Appeal where, despite having made no contribution to the mortgage payments since he left Miss Jones, he was deemed to be entitled to half of the property because it was jointly-held.

Miss Jones is now challenging that decision in a case which could set an important precedent for the two million co-habiting couples in England and Wales.

It’s thought that the case may be used as an opportunity to ‘even up’ the rights of unmarried couples and divorcing couples. Though if the couple had been married a divorce court would have been able to take into account the greater contributions Miss Jones has made. As it is, the court has had to apply strict legal principles over joint-ownership, meaning the property should be shared 50/50.

The judgment is expected in a few weeks’ time and its effects will be followed closely by Family Law solicitors. As the case continues, it simply underlines the importance for unmarried couples to draw up a declaration of trust showing how much of the home each one owns.

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