Cohabitee loses bid for equal share of house

Cohabitation|February 25th 2015

A woman who lived with her partner for more than three decades has lost her bid for an equal share in his property.

In Graham-York v York (Personal Representative of the Estate of Norton Brian York) and Another, the couple in question had cohabited for a full 33 years, between 1976 and the man’s death in 2009, but had never married during that time. And between 1985 and 2009, the couple lived in a London home registered in the man’s sole name.

Following his death, the woman, Miss Graham-York, continued living in the home. She had no meaningful income and did not continue the mortgage payments. By January 2011, the arrears exceeded £58,000. The building society launched legal proceedings, not against the woman but instead against her late partner’s estranged son by an earlier relationship, Adrian York, who was now the representative of his father’s estate.

In the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Tomlinson noted that:

“Adrian York was not on good terms with his late father, by whom he considered both he and his mother had been abandoned when he was a small child. Similarly, Adrian York is not on good terms with Miss Graham-York.”

In the circumstances, as the sole defendant, Mr York did not contest the claim. He was ordered to turn over possession of the property to the building society.

Miss Graham-York then applied to join the proceedings, and was made a second defendant. She launched a counterclaim against Adrian York, arguing that she was entitled to part ownership of the property – legally termed a ‘beneficial interest’. This claim arose from the ‘common intention’ of her and her late partner. Since she was in actual possession of the property, her interest took precedence over the mortgage arrangement entered into by the man, an arrangement she was not involved in.

In spite of an order in September 2013 that the property be given over to the building society, the case continued. At a hearing early last year, a Judge ruled that Miss Graham-York did indeed hold an interest in the property, which she valued at 25 per cent. The property was to be sold, with the building society receiving all the money due, and 25 per cent of the remainder going to Miss Graham-York.

She appealed this ruling, arguing that she should have been allocated a 50 per cent share of the property, and that her share should be payable before the building society were allocated their share of the sale proceeds.

But the Court of Appeal was not persuaded. Lord Justice Tomlinson said there was no starting point of equality of interest in current law when a property had been purchased in one person’s sole name, even if the purchase had been made with a significant contribution from another party. In making its ruling, the earlier court had only been concerned with reaching a fair decision on the facts of the case, and could not take into account other factors, such as alleged abuse by the women’s late partner.

His Lordship said:

“It is essential, in my judgment, to bear in mind that, in deciding in such a case what shares are fair, the court is not concerned with some form of redistributive justice. Thus it is irrelevant that it may be thought a “fair” outcome for a woman who has endured years of abusive conduct by her partner to be allotted a substantial interest in his property on his death. The plight of Miss Graham-York attracts sympathy, but it does not enable the court to redistribute property interests in a manner which right-minded people might think amounts to appropriate compensation.”

The earlier judge’s ruling has been fair and reasonable, the Court of Appeal ruled.

Read the judgement here.

Photo by oatsy40 via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. Guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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