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Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The muddied waters of Co-habitees’ entitlements to property

Property Law and Co-Habitation


The law surrounding co-habitation is extremely complex and technical and it really is impossible to condense in a way that is both understandable to a non-lawyer and precise or accurate enough to satisfy a lawyer.
The supreme court published a judgment this week about ex-cohabitees' entitlements to a share in their former home. It has been awaited up and down the country by ex- habitee’s and lawyers alike, whose cases all hinge upon the lengthy analysis of a long string of notoriously difficult case law. They were looking for a clear cut settlement but what they got was anything but straightforward (the full judgment on the supreme court website gives you an insight into its complexity

Supreme Court Judgement

The case concerned an ordinary couple: Patricia Jones and Leonard Kernott. They lived together, bought up their children together and owned a house together. When he left and the house failed to sell, Kernott bought his own home with a policy they cashed in. Jones carried on paying the mortgage, maintaining the house and caring for the children, with little child maintenance being paid. Fourteen years later, property values having gone up, he came back to claim his share in the property. The supreme court reinstated the original judge's decision that left him with only 10% of the property value. It has taken Jones and Kernott four courts and the same number of years to get to this simple outcome, with each subsequent court taking a different view. It might not have been so difficult if the court had been able to just look at all the circumstances and divide things fairly, as it can for married couples. But that's not something it can do with co-habitees.
There is a lot more to it than this brief summary but a few simple things can be taken from this ruling. Co habitation law will never be straightforward and different set-ups and circumstances will always make it complex to rule on.

Couples preparing to live together should take legal advice before they buy, take legal advice if they split up, and if they don't fancy being the next Jones v Kernott then either put intentions in writing in a deed of trust, or take the plunge and tie the knot!