Unmarried couples who share a home should consider drawing up an agreement about how much of the property each one of them owns.
Failure to do so can lead to confusion and potential hardship, as illustrated in a recent case before the Court of Appeal. It involved a woman who had lived with her abusive partner for 34 years until his death in 2009. They had two children together and lived in a property that was registered only in the partner’s name and mortgaged to a building society.
They never made an agreement stating how much of the home each of them owned. The woman continued living at the property after her partner died but then fell behind with mortgage repayments. The society started legal proceedings.
The court ordered that the property should be sold to clear the debt. The judge found that although the couple had intended to share the property, there was no evidence that they intended to have equal shares. The woman had made a small financial contribution, but most of the expense had been funded by her partner.
The judge held that the woman’s share was only 25%. The house should be sold so that the building society could recoup all of its losses. The woman’s share would then be paid from any money remaining. Unfortunately for her, there wasn’t enough left to provide her with the full 25% share.
She took the case further saying she should have been awarded a 50% share and that she should have precedence over the building society.
The Court of Appeal ruled against her. It held that the woman and her partner had not enjoyed a relationship in which love and affection were at the forefront.
Instead, the woman’s partner had been controlling and abusive, and money had been of primary importance to him. In those circumstances, it was impossible to say that he intended her to have an equal share in the property.
The court also pointed out that it could not concern itself with redistributive justice. The fact that the woman may have endured years of abuse did not mean that the court could allocate her an interest in the property that right-minded people might think appropriate.
Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of ownership agreements.