Cohabitee fails in claim for 50 per cent of a property

Cohabitation|Family Law|News|January 3rd 2013

A man who shared a home as part of a cohabiting couple for more than 20 years has failed in his bid to claim more than ten per cent ownership of the property.

In this recently published case, the man had been granted ten per cent “beneficial interest” (ownership) by a district judge in Middlesbrough County Court. The judge heard that, although the couple had lived together in the house since 1985, the woman had bought the property from the local authority under her sole name in 2001.

The woman worked two jobs to pay initially the rent and later the mortgage, and also had sole responsibility for all major household bills, with the exception of council tax, which was put into the couple’s joint names in 2003.

The man, meanwhile, contributed varying amounts to the household budget, averaging £100 per week, depending on whether he was in work or not. He was a labourer by trade. He also contributed to household renovations.

The couple had two children together but their relationship came to an end in 2005. However the man continued to live on the premises until 2009 as he “had nowhere else to go”.

Later that year, he launched a claim for a share of the property.

The district judge at the initial hearing ruled that the woman had made the bulk of contributions to the household over the years, saying a ten percent share reflected:

“…in fairness, the overwhelming responsibility and contribution which [the woman] made, both in terms of being the only capital contributor, and also being the major outgoings contributor.”

The man appealed. His lawyers argued that a ten per cent share was not a fair reflection of the man’s contributions over theyears. They also claimed that the property would have been jointly purchased by the couple if they had not been advised that he would be considered unsuitable for a mortgage as he had not been in work for a continuous period of six months at that point. The man’s claim for a share of the property should proceed on the basis that they had intended to jointly purchase the property, the legal team argued.

But Lord Justice Etherton, sitting at the Court of Appeal with Lord Justice Thorpe and Lord Justice Lewison rejected these arguments and upheld the original judge’s decision.

The Lord Justice said:

“There is no scope for a legal presumption that the parties intended a joint tenancy both in law and equity. [The] argument amounts to a submission that there should be a legal presumption of joint beneficial ownership, not merely where the parties are indeed the joint legal owners, but where there is evidence that they would have liked to be joint legal owners but for one reason or another that was not practical or desirable….. the proposition is neither consistent with principle nor sound policy.”

Lord Justice Lewison agreed, saying:

“I agree… that if the facts had been different, the result might have been different, but they were not.”

Photo by Vienze Ziction via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

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