Former cohabitant fails in property appeal

Family Law|April 30th 2015

A woman whose relationship broke down has failed in her bid to get a share of her former home.

In Curran v Collins, the cohabiting couple had been in a relationship from 1977 until their breakup in 2010.

Over the course of their 33-year relationship, the couple bred Airedale terriers. After their split, Mr Collins agreed to pay £3,500 for half the value of the dogs, but said Ms Curran had no claim on any of the three properties that they had spent time in as a couple.

Mr Collins had bought the properties under his name and had “told her expressly that the property would be owned by him alone”.

A judge at the Central London County Court agreed with Mr Collins and denied the woman’s claim to a share, so she took her case to the Court of Appeal. Her lawyer argued that the initial judge “had no rational basis for discounting Ms Curran’s evidence in the circumstances”. She also accused the judge of forming a negative opinion of Ms Curran before her evidence had been fully heard.

Additionally, Ms Curran claimed that the original judge had focused too much on financial contributions.

Sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Lady Justice Arden said that “any appellant who challenges [a] judge’s finding on credibility has a particularly difficult task” and that the Court of Appeal “could only properly interfere if the judge were wrong”.

As for the finances, the judge ruled that the initial case “expressly went beyond mere financial contributions” in its scope and that Ms Curran “simply seeks to re-argue points on which the judge found against [her]”.

Lady Justice Arden said that the overall evidence supported the initial judge’s findings and therefore dismissed the appeal.

This judgment represents a striking imbalance in the law. As the judge pointed out, Ms Curran “bore the legal burden of proving that she was entitled to a share”. This would not have happened if the parties were married and going through a divorce. The law as it currently stands is fundamentally unfair to cohabiting couples as they are afforded no rights following the breakdown of their relationships. This case illustrates the problem perfectly, as couple were together for over 30 years yet Ms Curran has walked away with nothing.

To read the full judgment, click here.

Photo by Olga Martschitsch via Flickr

Author: Stowe Family Law

Comments(5)

  1. Andrew says:

    I see she got a half share in the Airedales . . .

    More seriously I also see that she was represented pro bono. I hope Mr Collins got his costs (these not being family proceedings) and can enforce payment. Does this not prove yet again that leave to appeal should normally be conditional on security being given for the Respondent’s costs?

  2. Luke says:

    Marilyn, this case reminds me of the 2nd wife who complained that her husband was being financially crippled by his first wife – you said :-
    ==========
    “I can see you have strong feelings, but you cant say you didn’t know, weren’t warned and still went and married him.”
    ==========
    .
    .
    I agreed with you, badly as I felt for the lady we all know what the Family Court system can do financially to divorced men. Well this woman knew as well, she went ahead with the relationship and business without marrying her boyfriend or getting her name on the properties and business – as she says:
    =========
    “Ms Curran said that she had always trusted Mr Collins and she had assumed that if their relationship ever broke down then she would receive her ‘fair share’ of the business and the property.”
    =========
    .
    Well, her judgement was poor in this respect, I feel very bad for her too and in my view he is behaving very badly in giving her nothing, but to try and cater for such foolishness via the legal system (i.e. cohabitation rights with no contract at all) just creates bad law.

  3. Nordic says:

    Dear Marilyn,
    As sorry as one might feel for Mrs Curran, she is an adult and must be treated as such. Why did she not insist on joint ownership, for example? As you yourself noted in an earlier post, there are legal instruments available to cobitants through which they can make arrangements for asset division. All we therefore need an information campaign to highlight the importance of making use of thsee instruments (just as we tell people they better write a will, if they wish to influence how their wealth is distributed on death).

  4. Luke says:

    “All we therefore need an information campaign to highlight the importance of making use of thsee instruments (just as we tell people they better write a will, if they wish to influence how their wealth is distributed on death).”
    ========================================================
    .
    Nordic, I don’t see that happening for the following reasons:

    (1) A lot of current cohabitants would get a shock when they ask their partner to add their name to the ownership of assets, and their partners say no ! There will be a lot of acrimony and a lot of broken relationships causing the taxpayer to be required to fund the losing party – and no legal redress so little money for lawyers. Nobody wants to rock that boat because a lot of these relationships will never break up or eventually get married anyway.
    .
    (2) There is a lot more money for the legal system in pushing instead retrospective enforced cohabitation law without a contract – there would be tons of bitter dragged out litigation and it would be a veritable gold mine for lawyers – than boilerplate cohabitation agreements.
    .
    Pushing for everybody to write a Will (usually via lawyers of course!) is different and is heavily publicised because there are no real losers, it’s no doubt sensible for everybody to have a Will and more profitable for lawyers to have millions of extra boilerplate and more complicated Wills to write than have the rare occasional acrimonious fight over a deceased’s assets – which even then is not usually that difficult to sort out.
    .
    Sadly it’s the usual thing, follow the money.

  5. What Is A Prenuptial Agreement Australian Terrier | Prenup Information says:

    […] Former cohabitant fails in property appeal – Over the course of their 33-year relationship, the couple bred Airedale terriers. After their split, Mr Collins agreed to pay £3,500 for half the value of the dogs, but said Ms Curran had no claim on any of the three properties that they had spent time … […]

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