A woman’s insistence that she had equal ownership of a home in Dorset has been dismissed by the Court of Appeal.
The couple had originally met in 1986. The man, a father of three sons, had recently been widowed. The relationship took off and he moved into her home in Poole soon afterwards.
The following year he bought a house in his sole name, using a mortgage. The woman made no financial contribution. They moved into the new house together and in due course had two daughters.
A few years later, the mother bought another house. The man insists he contributed to the purchase price but she denies this.
By 2005 the couple had become drifted apart although they continued to live in the same house with the younger children. Eventually the father asked the mother to move out but she refused to do so. He therefore issued a formal claim for possession. She defended the claim, arguing that she had a equal ‘beneficial interest in’ (share in) the house because that had been their plan when the home was built.
The case proceeded towards court but in August 2007 the couple met in Poole Park to try and reach an agreement. The nature of this meeting had been “bitterly disputed” since. She insisted that they had been unable to agree on anything because she would not compromise on her claim for a share in the property. He, meanwhile, claimed they did reach a compromise to save on further legal costs. This reportedly consisted of an agreement that she would receive 20 per cent ownership of the property, along with the right to occupy it for as long as her aunt and elderly mother were alive – both also lived on the premises. The father would also relinquish any claims to the mother’s other properties.
A judge accepted the father’s claims, on the basis of correspondence from the period, including a solicitor’s letter setting out details of the reported agreement. A further letter indicating that the case had been settled is reported to have been sent to the court at a later date, but the mother and her legal team denied this and records had been lost.
In due course, the mother’s aunt and the grandmother both died. The father than applied to activate his right to sell under the alleged agreement. The first issue to be determined was whether or not this had in fact been binding.
A Judge ruled that the couple had agreed to 80-20 per cent ownership, and that there had been sufficient clarity to make this agreement legally binding. The mother had intended the agreement to be taken seriously, the Judge ruled, and the man had done so by not pursuing his original claim to full ownership of the home.
In the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Kitchen rejected her subsequent appeal, saying the earlier Judge had been justified in his conclusions. Her claims lacked credibility because the solicitor’s letter set out clear details of the agreement. The father’s behaviour had been entirely consistent with the terms of that agreement.
His Lordship concluded:
“…it has never been suggested that, at any time after their meeting in Poole Park, the parties reached any further or other common understanding concerning their respective interests. To the contrary, both parties continued to act consistently with the terms of the agreement they had reached on that day until the events giving rise to this claim and the reassertion by [the mother] of her original claim.”
Read the full judgement here.