The much anticipated judgement is finally here so here is Mark’s take on the whole thing:
HAVE YOU MET MS JONES; MY COMMON LAW WIFE?
WELL IT CERTAINLY LOOKS THAT WAY!
The Supreme Court has ruled in favour of a woman [Ms. Patricia Jones] who according to the Court is entitled to more than half the equity in a property that she legally co-owned with her former co-habitee, Mr Leonard Kernott, on the basis that he made little contribution to it for a number of years.
Facts of the Case
In 1983 Patricia Jones and Leonard Kernott started co-habiting in Jones’ home, and went on to have two children together, in 1984 and 1986. In May 1985 the parties purchased a property in joint names, using the proceeds of sale from Jones’ home and taking out a joint mortgage for the balance. They lived there together until they separated in 1993. Kernott then moved out and purchased another property. He made no further contribution to Jones’ household.
In 2006 Kernott claimed his half of the equity and Jones took him to Court to argue that he should not get half. The judge at Southend County Court held that Jones had a 90% share and Kernott 10% despite the fact that they both appeared on the Title Deeds. In other words the Judge changed their legal interests. This was overturned by the Court of Appeal which held that their equitable interests (the amount that was really their’s) should simply be a reflection of the legal interests. Jones then appealed to the Supreme Court and they have now said the first Judge had the right approach at the outset. In other words the Court should have the discretion to look at an unmarried couple’s overall situation and award a fair settlement not just one that follows their legal property interests.
What does this mean
In my opinion this radical move by the Supreme Court could be seen as a way of giving unmarried couples splitting up similar treatment to married couples going through a divorce. Only time will tell and I certainly expect to see a lot more cases until the position is really made clear.
In terms of how this update to the law will effect you it certainly emphasises the need for all the unmarried couples out there thinking of buying property together to have a separate contract when they move in together. They will need something to really spell out their arrangements and a separation contract if they split up. Not very romantic I know but then how do you think Leonard Kernott is feeling right now!