Unmarried rights: court rules on property split

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The Supreme Court has ruled that a man who left his partner nearly 20 years ago is not entitled to half the value of their shared house.

Under the English law relating to unmarried rights, Leonard Kernott, 51, is entitled only to 10% of the property's value, said the UK's highest court.

Mr Kernott's former partner Patricia Jones, 56, was challenging an earlier unmarried rights ruling by the Court of Appeal which gave Mr Kernott an equal share of the home's value.

unmarried rights over the houseFor 13 years after the couple separated in 1993, Ms Jones paid the mortgage on the Essex bungalow, which was bought in joint names and which they shared for 8 years. In 2008 the house was valued at £240,000.

In 2010 the Court of Appeal decided that, because the couple owned equal shares when they separated and neither had acted to alter the situation since, Mr Kernott was still entitled to half the value of the house.

But according to the Supreme Court judge Lord Kerr, the split of 90% and 10% originally imposed by a county court judge was in terms of unmarried rights "a fair one between the parties".

The judgement was based on law which governs unmarried rights in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland has its own law on unmarried rights.

Mr Kernott said that he had never wanted 50%, but had thought 25% was a "fair reflection" of what he had put into the property.

"When I lived there, I paid for everything and I completely refurbished the place," he said, adding that when he left he had agreed with Ms Jones that he would receive his half of the house when she was ready to buy him out.

"As time went on, I knew she would never be ready so I waited until my youngest son was 18 - I wanted my children to live in the house without upheaval.

"It's a sad day for men who are left in a similar position to me and it feels like the law will always side with the woman."

The current legal position in England, Wales and NI is that finance is not the only issue. The BBC's legal affairs correspondent Jane Peel said the court's position was that when a couple's intentions are unclear, each party is entitled to what the court deems to be fair.

"The financial contributions couples have made are relevant," she said, "but there are many other factors which enable the court to decide what shares were either intended or were fair in all the circumstances."

Other experts said more clarity was needed in the law, which remains grey and unclear. Calling for legal consistency, Emma Pearmaine of Simpson Millar LLP said cross-border differences meant the case would not have reached the Supreme Court if it had been heard in Scotland instead of England.

"In Scotland, there are unmarried rights enshrined in law for couples living together, with a greater degree of certainty," she said. "Either party can claim against the other after separation based on economic advantages or disadvantages."

Emma added: "There are more than 2 million co-habiting couples in England and Wales. In every instance the law should be seen to protect both parties equally."


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