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Unmarried Couples and Property Rights

As Head of the Family Team here at Salmons, I am very frequently asked to advise former unmarried couples on their rights to the former family home. It is a familiar story. A couple, who never married, bought a house several years, sometimes decades, ago and the relationship has ended and one of the couple has moved out, again many years ago, leaving the other in the jointly owned home paying the mortgage which remains in joint names. In the meantime, the property has escalated in value and years later the one who left the home wants his or her share.
This is exactly what occurred in the recent case of Jones v Kernott in 2011. It was the man who moved out in 1993 and the house was worth £245,000 when he claimed his share. The house was bought in joint names and it remained in joint names throughout.

The Supreme Court, on appeal from the Court of Appeal, decided that though the intention of the parties was to share a home when the home was purchased, this intent altered when the man moved out. There was no evidence from which to infer what their intentions were with regard to ownership shares at that point so the best the court could do was to impute an intention to the parties which the parties clearly never had but which dealt fairly with the scenario. The man recovered his share of the property when he left in 1993 – that is about £10,000.

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