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The current law in relation to division of assets between unmarried couples on the breakdown of their relationship is unsatisfactory. The case of Kernott v Jones (2010) highlighted this once again. In Kernott v Jones the parties met in 1980 and had two children. Five years later, they bought a house in joint names. Ms Kernott put down a deposit of 20% and the balance of the purchase price was paid by way of a joint mortgage. During their relationship, Mr Jones gave Ms Kernott money towards housekeeping etc (about £100 per week). Mr Jones built an extension to the property, which increased its value by 50% of the purchase price. In 1993, the parties separated. Following separation Ms Kernott paid for all the outgoings on the property and did not receive any child maintenance from Mr Jones. In 1996, Mr Jones bought a house in his sole name. He made all the mortgage payments and other outgoings.
The Court of Appeal made a declaration that the parties held the property as joint tenants in common in equal shares.
The leading case in this area of law if Stack v Dowden which states that a purchase of a property in joint names indicates both a legal and beneficial joint tenancy, unless the contrary is proved. The burden of proof is on the person seeking to show that the property should not be shared equally and this is extremely difficult (and expensive) to prove.
Since Stack v Dowden the courts have dealt with several more cases such as Fowler v Barron, Adekunle v Ritchie, Laskar v Laskar however the courts seem to have great difficulty in applying the relatively clear guidelines in Stack v Dowden with consistency. The difference between the lower courts’ decisions and the Court of Appeal’s decisions in these cases illustrates that a reform of the law to provide a consistent and clear framework for cohabitants is much needed and long overdue.
For further information and advice on this issue, and other family law issues, please contact us for a free initial consultation on 01992 306 616 or 0207 956 2740 or email us.Back to Law Articles